Note that this Website does not endorse any of the consumer adds listed at the top or bottom of this Webpage. So Caveat Emptor/Lector (Latin for let the buyer/reader beware) is highly advised for those who access these sites through this Website, since I cannot guarantee their veracity.

Wishing Everyone A Happy & Healthy 2021!


As Of September 2021
Jimmyblues "Affordable" DAC/Headphone Amp/Headphone Collection

"Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot was the first economist to describe the law of diminishing returns in his 1770 French treatise 'Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Wealth'.

I always base my head-fi purchases on the law of diminishing returns, in an attempt to obtain the most performance for my audio dollar.

Over the past few years I've been using headphones most of the time, so I decided to invest in some headphone gear. Of course, my interest is always based on value oriented equipment that faithfully honors the music, without costing more than it has to. Whenever possible I purchase my gear used. I will also purchase "open box" if the value is there.

The following is my headphone system. It's been chosen based on what I consider to be the best value for my audio dollar. My headphone system is centered around a Schiit Modius DAC, *Schiit Audio LOKI Mini and Behringer MiniEQ800 graphic equalizers, which I use to fine tune each headphone I have. I have found each of these components to be an invaluable part of my system. And I consider the Modius to be the best value in a Delta Sigma DAC on the market at the present time.

The front ends I use are all digital: An Onkyo C-7030 CD player (Transport only used via optical output to the Schiit Modius optical input, C-7030 coaxial output to Schiit Modi 2 Uber coaxial input, or to an Audio By Van Alstine Insight coaxial input, or to an Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 coaxial input). As for music servers, I use an Amazon Fire HD 10 version 7 with the following D to A converters via a Schiit EITR USB to S/PDIF bridge: *Audio By Van Alstine Insight, Entech Number Cruncher 205.2, and Schiit Modi 2 Uber. I also use the Fire HD 10 with the Schiit Modius via the Modius' own USB input.


* The Audio By Van Alstine Insight is the only multibit DAC that I presently own. The others are based on a delta sigma architecture.



HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS/DACS/HEADPHONES


I have several different pieces of headphone gear that I like to mix (much of it vintage gear), in order to create different affordable systems. I have found that my Amazon Fire tablet serves as an excellent and very inexpensive source for high quality music and video streaming, when its USB port is interfaced with a quality outboard digital to audio converter (DAC) - which is then fed to a quality headphone amplifier.

However, as an all in one player, the DAC and headphone amplifier in the Fire HD 10 are average at best.

From now on I will list the headphone system that I am using at any given time. I have also found that there's a lot of great vintage headphone gear on the market that's well made, great sounding, and relatively inexpensive - given that it is at least a decade old. In particular, certain headphone amplifiers and DAC's from a decade or more ago continue to perform quite well, and when available on the used market, can be purchased for a small fraction of their original retail price.

For example, I recently purchased an Audio By Van Alstine Insight multibit DAC from 2008 that retailed four about $1000 when new (about $1250 in 2020 dollars). I paid about $300 for it plus shipping and sales tax, for a total of just under $350. This is a great sounding DAC for a very reasonable price. Especially when one considers that most high quality contemporary multibit DACS (including R2R DACS) sell for thousands of dollars new.

This is the head-fi system that I am using at the present time:

Source: Amazon Fire HD10 tablet v.9; DAC: Schiit Modius; Graphic Equalizer: Behringer MiniFBQ800; Headphone Amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim 1; Headphones: Fostex T50RP MK3, Hifiman HE4XX, Sennheiser HD6XX, Sennheiser HD600


HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS

VINTAGE HEADPHONE AMP'S:

Teac HA-501
NVA AP10H
Eddie Current EC/SS
Ray Samuels Emmeline HR2
Antique Sound Lab MG Head MKI
Violectric HPA V100
Gustard H10
Hagerman Technology Castanet/Hagerman Audio Labs HA10
Garage 1217 Project Starlight V1

CONTEMPORARY HEADPHONE AMP'S:

OTL TUBE AMP'S:

Eufonika H4 OTL
Little Dot MK2

HYBRID TUBE AMP'S:

Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Platinum
Loxjie P20

SOLID STATE AMP'S:

Emotiva BASX A-100
Schiit Jotunheim 1
Schiit Asgard 3
Schiit Asgard 2
Schiit Magni 3
Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Spark
JDS Labs ATOM

DAC/HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS:

iFi Zen Dac Signature/iFi Zen Can Signature HD6XX
Schiit Fulla 2


GRAPHIC EQUALIZERS:

Schiit LOKI Mini
Behringer MiniFBQ800
Schiit LOKIUS -- To Be Purchased In The Near Future


DIGITAL TO ANALOGUE CONVERTERS:

Audio By Van Alstine Insight Multibit
Entech Audio Number Cruncher 205.2
Schiit Modius
Schiit Modi 2 Uber

USB - S/PDIF BRIDGE:

Schiit EITR


HEADPHONES:

DYNAMIC

Sennheiser HD-650 (Massdrop HD6XX version)
Sennheiser HD-600
Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon
Grado SR-60
Meze 73 Classics
Koss KSC 75
AKG K240 Sextett
NAD HP50 VISO
Superlux HD681 EVO

PLANAR MAGNETIC

Hifiman HE4XX
Fostex T50RP MK3

IEM'S

BASN B Master Triple
Linsoul KZ ZST X

ELECTROSTATIC HEADPHONES

Stax SRS-44

REVIEWS


Behringer MiniFBQ800
Availability - New Via Behringer Website & Other Internet Venues/Used - Available On Ebay And Amazon From Time To Time


UPDATE: I have used the MiniFBQ800 with the Schiit Fulla 2, and it has become my favorite affordable headphone system. I purchased my Fulla 2 through Schiit as a new old stock (NOS) component for about $89, and my MiniFBQ800 for about $64. So for a total cost of $153 this system offers a discrete digital to analogue converter using the AKM4490 chip, a 9 band graphic equalizer, and a headphone amplifier, for well under $200 delivered. Add a pair of affordable headphones and an inexpensive music streaming source such as an Amazon Fire HD10, and you have a quality headfi system for under $300 all in!

Earlier...

The MiniFBQ800 is a great little 9 band graphic equalizer for about $65, including shipping and sales tax. I am presently using it with my Schiit Jotunheim 1 headphone amplifier and Schiit Modius DAC, as part of a fully balanced system.

This system sounds quite good with my Hifiman HE4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3 planar magnetic headphones. I plan on listening to it with my *Sennheiser headphones in the near future and will include my findings once I do.


*I've been listening to this system with my Sennheiser HD600's and it really is a synergistic combination. Very clean and musical. Plenty of detail, decent bass and excellent mid's and treble. I will update my experience with this system with my HD6XX's when I have some time.

Schiit Jotunheim Version 1
Availability - New Old Stock On Schiit Website/Used - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues


I recently picked up a B stock Schiit Jotunheim version 1 for $259 with a 5 year factory warranty ($399 normal retail price). First impressions are as follows: Typical solid quality build. Very nice sounding. Plenty of detail and decent sound staging. In fully balanced mode, lots of available power.

I'll update my listening impressions in the near future.


Emotiva BASX A-100
Availability - Used Only - Sold New From 2017 - 2021, So Fairly Common Via Internet Venues

Update: I finally got around to installing the jumpers on my BASX A 100, so that the headphone jack now has the same full power as the speaker outputs on this headphone amplifier.

Wow! The A-100 puts out tons of power from 8 ohms on up to about 250 ohms. It even puts out plenty of power into 300 and 600 ohm loads. But where this headphone amplifier really shines is in the 32 - 50 ohm range where most planar magnetic headphones reside.

Think of about 12 to 8.5 watts of power per channel into this range and you can understand why so many headphone enthusiasts with planar magnetic headphones own an A-100.

I was using it briefly last evening with my Fostex T50RP MK3, and I have never seen the kind of control over the T50 that the A-100 has. It can drive the T50 to ear splitting levels without ever breaking a sweat. Resolution is excellent, as is sound staging, separation, and a host of other sonic characteristics, that make the A-100 the best value in headphone amplifiers that I can think of. The fact that it's also a speaker amplifier only enhances its usefulness.

It is unfortunate that the Emotiva has chosen to discontinue the BASX A-100, however, they are still available on the used market. For those who are looking for an affordable headphone amplifier that will power the most difficult headphones, look no further.

Earlier...

I recently received my new Emotiva BASX A-100 headphone amplifier, and have been listening to it with both pairs of my IEM's. To my pleasant surprise, it is very quiet with these IEMS. This is without the jumpers installed, so the power is much lower than it would be with the jumpers installed.

First impressions: The A-100 is very well made and quite nice sounding. Its packaging is first class, even including a nice cloth cover to store this amplifier in - emblazoned with the name Emotiva on it.

The A-100 is ridiculously low priced at $229, especially when one considers that the A-100 is also an integrated amplifier. It should cost at least $100 to $150 more. At its $199 sale price, it's a steal, and highly recommended!

From what I have read, Emotiva recently decided to end production of the A-100 after a very successful 4 year run (2017 - 2021). I cannot personally think of a better value in regard to headphone amplifiers, and I own some that are already benchmark products in their respective price ranges; including the Schiit Asgard 3, Loxjie P20, and JDS Labs ATOM.

Earlier...

I have been thinking about purchasing this headphone amplifier since it debuted back in the Spring of 2017. However, as was the case with the Schiit Asgard 2, the BASX A-100 kept getting pre-empted in favor of other headphone amplifiers.

Now that the BASX A-100 is being discontinued - and offered at a $30 discount - I've decided to purchase one. Interestingly enough, a few hours after I placed my order for one, the Emotiva Website added a temporary out of stock warning in the checkout area. This leads me to believe that either stock is in very low supply, or the discounted price led to a buying frenzy that used up what inventory was left.

While $30 may not sound like much of a savings, the A-100 was ridiculously underpriced to begin with at its regular $229 retail price.

In any event, I just received an Email from Emotiva stating that my BASX A-100 has been shipped. So I will post some listening experiences regarding the A-100 when it arrives.

Stay tuned...


Teac HA-501
Availability - Used Only - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues


UPDATE: I have been listening to the HA-501 for the past few days, with an Amazon Fire HD10, Schiit Fulla 2 (used as a dedicated DAC), Schiit Loki Mini, a pair of Koss KSC75's, as well as a pair of Fostex T50RP MK3 headphones.

The 501 sounds great with both of these headphones. The better the quality the recordings I play, the better the 501 sounds.

I have also been experimenting with the impedance matching switch on the 501, which includes 5 different positions - ranging from low to med to high (and two positions - one between low and mid and one between mid and high).

I like the flexibility with this feature, since it gives more usability than simply a high and low impedance switch like my Schiit Asgards and Magni 3 have.

The overall sound of the 501 is typical of class A architecture, which is to say smooth. I've yet to hear a well designed pure class A amplifier that did not sound great. The 501 is dynamic enough, however, tends to focus on smoothness over other sonic traits. And in my experience, this allows for hours of fatigue free listening - even with the most aggressive digital sources.

I can understand why the 501 was talked up so much in its early days, given its functionality as well as quality build and sound signature.

Earlier: The Teac HA-501 arrived late this afternoon. After unpacking it and hooking it up, my first impressions are as follows: This is a very nicely finished headphone amplifier. At about nine pounds it is on the hefty side, and it has a nice solid feel to it. Moreover, the controls on the front panel of the 501 also exude a sense of quality.

I will be doing some light testing with the HA-501 and some different headphones over the next week or so. However, given the summer heat (and the fact that this headphone amplifier is pure Class A and runs hot), I will wait until Autumn before I really put it through its paces.

Was it worth $300? As long as it's reliable, I would have to say absolutely!


Earlier...

I recently purchased a Teac HA-501 headphone amplifier which I should receive soon. According to the seller, this particular unit was purchased new less than two years ago. Given that the HA-501 has not been manufactured since somewhere between 2014 - 2015, that would mean that this unit was sold as NOS (new old stock).

The seller said that he paid $500 for it. I paid $300 including free shipping. With sales tax, my HA-501 sold for about $325 all in. Considering this unit listed for around $1200 in 2013 and had a street price of around $850 (About $1000 in 2021 dollars adjusted for inflation), the $300 price is an exceptional bargain. That is, provided that my HA-501 is in the excellent condition it's advertised as being in.

I will update my experiences with this classic piece of gear when it arrives.


Schiit Fulla 2
Availability - New Through Schiit B Stock/Used - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues


UPDATE: It's been about a month since I began using my Schiit Fulla 2 DAC/Headphone AMP to power my IEM headfi system, and I am liking it more each day.

I also recently tried powering my Fostex T50RP MK3 planar headphones with the Fulla 2 and LOKI Mini. I was pleasantly surprised that with the LOKI, the Fulla 2 had more than enough to power to play these headphones quite loud. The Fulla 2 by itself does not play them nearly as loud.

The Amazon Fire HD10 V.9, along with the Schiit Fulla 2, LOKI Mini, Linsoul KZ ZST X or BASN B Master Triple, represents an incredible value in an affordable headfi system. I said this a month ago, and I am even more convinced of it now than I was back then.

The cost of this system with the Linsoul KZ ZST X is only $341! A headfi system that sounds this good should cost a heck of a lot more than one just shy of $350. As a penurious Hi-Fi enthusiast, I am always impressed with audio equipment that represents great value, and this system most certainly does.

I have never actually recommended a headfi system before given the subjective nature of this hobby, however, I am doing so in regard to this system, since I seriously doubt that there is a better value to be found in this hobby at the $341 price. Especially when considering just how nice this system sounds.

Earlier...

I have been using the following headfi system over the past few days and consider it to be perhaps the best overall value in a headfi system that is presently available. The system is comprised of the following: Amazon Fire HD 10 Version 9, Schiit Fulla 2 *DAC/Headphone amp, Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer, and one of the following transducers: Koss KSC 75 headphones, BASN B Master Triple IEM's, or Linsoul KZ ZST X IEM's.

* The DAC in the Schitt Fulla 2 uses a 4490 computer chip (the same chip used in the Schiit Modi 2 Uber DAC). The Fulla 2 DAC is also very similar in its implementation to the Schiit Modi 2 Uber delta sigma DAC.

The cost of this system with the KSC 75 is $331, with the Linsoul KZ ZST X is $341, or with the BASN B Master Triple is $398. Add about thirty dollars for interconnects and the price of these headfi systems ranges from around $350 to $450 for a complete, quality headfi system that rivals systems costing significantly more.

Perhaps the nicest part is that this audio system runs cool. Moreover, the IEM's and KOSS KSC 75 headphones don't overheat your ears the way that full sized headphones do during the warmer months of the year.

The Fulla 2 is no longer available from Schiit as an A stock product, however, Schiit occasionally sells it as B stock item. Please be aware that it does sell out quickly though.

Earlier... I decided to try my Schiit Fulla 2 with my Linsoul KZ ZST X (12 ohms) and BASN B Master Triple (18 ohm) IEM's. The Fulla 2 actually works quite well with both pairs of these IEM's and it's very quiet. Moreover, since it also runs cool I have decided to use it during the summer; rotating it in my head-fi system along with my three other cool running headphone amplifiers: The Emotiva BASX A-100, Schiit Fulla 2, and JDS Labs ATOM.

The Fulla 2 is a really nice little headphone amplifier/DAC that IMHO represents the best value in audio equipment sold by this company. Of course the Asgard 3 offers exceptional value as well.

Earlier...

*The Schiit Fulla 2 is a Swiss Army Knife in terms of its flexibility. It's a DAC and a headphone amplifier, and can be used in a number of different ways.

I recently purchased a B stock Schiit Fulla 2 from Schiit Audio and have been listening to it in different systems. Since my intention is always to seek "great sounding" bargains in this hobby, I had been wondering for quite some time how the Fulla 2 would sound when used with the LOKI graphic equalizer.

I decided to run a 3.5mm to a pair of RCA audio cables from the DAC output of the Fulla 2 directly to the RCA inputs on the LOKI Mini, and then run another pair of RCA to a single 3.5 mm cable, back to the analogue input on the front of the Fulla 2. This essentially makes the Fulla 2 a DAC, graphic equalizer and headphone amplifier.

Based on my listening experience, the LOKI greatly enhances the flexibility of the Fulla 2 and I highly recommend this combination for anyone who wants an affordable headphone amplifier/DAC/equalizer for under $300. The LOKI Mini B stock and Fulla 2 B stock cost me about $230 delivered, and I cannot think of any system that offers more performance for your audio dollar. Add a nice pair of headphones and you have a system that can for many, offer a very satisfying listening experience for years to come. The LOKI RCA outputs can also be sent directly to the inputs of another headphone amplifier, while only the DAC portion of the Fulla 2 is used, offering even greater flexibility.


Gustard H10
Availability - Used Only - Can Be Found From Time To Time On Various Internet Venues, However, Not As Commonly Available As One Might Imagine


Update* The Gustard H10 was an attempt by the Chinese to build a headphone amplifier that closely approximated the specifications of the Violectric HPA V200 headphone amplifier, only with a true dual mono circuit topology. Having never owned a V200, I really can't say if they achieved their goal or not.

What I can say is that the Gustard H10 is a fine sounding headphone amplifier that is not only well made, but also, powerful enough to drive virtually any headphone.

I must also say that a few years back when the H10 was still being manufactured, it was ridiculously underpriced at $399.00 (the comparable Violectric HPA V200 sold new for over a $1000 at the time); given both its build quality and excellent audio performance.

Considering that the H10 was manufactured in China and how much electronic equipment China exports to the United States, one would think that the H10 would be commonplace in America. However, it appears that China did not sell a lot of Gustard H10's in the USA, and therefore, they remain somewhat rare.

Moreover, given that they were inexpensive, a number of owners modified their Gustard H10's with aftermarket opamps, some of which were not properly voltage matched. This resulted in opamps catching fire and damaging the circuit boards in some H10's, making nice ones even rarer and more difficult to find.

Earlier...

I have been using the H10 for the past few months now and have found it to be a very flexible headphone amplifier, in that it runs all different impedances of headphones well.

In fact, over the past few days I have been listening to the H10 with the following headphones and find each to be an excellent match with the H10: Fostex T50RP MK3, Hifiman HE4XX, Sennheiser HD600, Sennheiser HD6XX, Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon, Meze Audio 73 Classics.

I tend to put bargain Hi-Fi systems together as part of this hobby. Given this, I must say that the $250 - as delivered price - I paid for both the H10 and T50RP MK3, represents an incredible value relative to the price/performance of these components. I had read about the H10 pairing well with many different brands of planar magnetic headphones and now believe it, based on what I have heard with the combinations of the H10 and T50RP MK3, as well as the H10 and the Hifiman HE4XX.


Earlier...


After a few days of use I have found the Gustard H10 to be a very nice sounding headphone amplifier, with more than * enough power for virtually any headphone on the market. I have no doubt that it will even power the Hifiman HE6 and AKG K1000; even if there are better (yet far more expensive) choices of amplification for these notoriously difficult to drive headphones.

*Gustard H10 output power: 570 mW (600 ohm load); 2200 mW (100 ohms); 2700 mW (50 ohms); 2000 mW (32 ohms); 1000 mW (16 ohms)

I like the circuit design of the H10 very much. It builds on the Violectric V200's design, with independent power transformers for each channel (a true dual mono circuit). The H10's sound is typical of that of pure class A amplification, which is to say very smooth.

As I said previously, my H10 runs cool to the touch, which leads me to believe that the Burson opamps are really not designed to work with the H10, hence the tremendous heat that they give off.

Personally, I think that the H10 sounds quite good as it is, and don't see the need to risk doing damage to this headphone amplifier by changing its opamps. Especially since it appears that a stock H10 is reliable.

I am still testing the H10 with different impedance headphones. Thus far, I have listened to it with the Fostex T50RP MK3 and the Hifiman HE4XX (35 and 50 ohms respectively) and it's a good match with both. I am interested in seeing how the H10 pairs with higher impedance headphones, including the Sennheiser HD600 and HD6XX (300 ohms) and in particular, the AKG K240 Sextett (600 ohm) - the primary reason that I purchased the H10.

I'll update my experiences with the H10 and how it pairs with these headphones in the future.


Earlier...

I purchased a used Gustard H10 and recently took delivery of it. First impressions are as follows: It is well made, very nice sounding, and a bargain at its $399 USD price. I paid less than half of that for a stock, nearly mint H10. The H10 is said to be a clone of the Violectric HPA V200, only with improvements to the circuit that are alleged to actually make the H10 sound better than the HPA V200.

I will update my experiences with the H10 in the near future. I'll also discuss the heating problem that some H10's using after market opamps experienced, which in some instances, destroyed the opamps themselves (as well as other components on the H10's PCB).


Eufonika H4 OTL
Availability - E-bay New Purchase Only

*Update:
Eufonika Audio is gradually making inroads into the headfi community simply by word of mouth, because the company builds excellent headphone amplifiers that cost a fraction of the competition. I have been using my Eufonika H4 for over a year now and continue to really appreciate what a fine headphone amplifier the H4 is. It is the perfect match for higher impedance headphones, and synergizes beautifully with staples in the headphone hobby like the Sennheiser HD650, HD600 and HD6XX.

The fact that Eufonika sells their products by word of mouth - rather than advertising them - and does not rely on a retail dealer network, means that its products can be sold at a very competitive price. And this has not gone unnoticed by more and more headfi hobbiests looking for an excellent headphone amplifier at a bargain price.

IMHO, there is no better value in OTL tube headphone amplifiers than the Eufonika H4, H5 and H7. They truly represent tremendous bargains in a hobby that is overcrowded with overpriced and marginal gear.

Earlier: I've been using the Eufonika H4 for the past few weeks and have come to appreciate it more and more. The H4 really is well constructed and very aesthetically pleasing.

As for its sound, the H4 is typical of a well designed OTL headphone amplifier in that it adds little to the sound of the music, apart from a slight warmth from the tubes. Both lows and highs are slightly rolled off, while the midrange is full, clean, dynamic and non fatiguing.

As such, the H4 is a very involving headphone amp to listen to for hours on end. That is provided it's matched with a good high impedance headphone like the Sennheiser HD600 or HD650. I have used both with the H4 and find them to be an excellent match. The same can be said for my AKG K240 Sextetts, which at 600 ohms are a difficult load to drive. Yet, the H4 handles them easily with plenty of headroom to spare.

However, and as I stated in an earlier part of this post, in my experience the H4 does not offer the same sonic benefits with *lower impedance headphones which require more current than the 300 milliwatts of power that the H4 produces.

*Also, forget about using it with planar magnetic headphones, since they require far more current than the H4 produces. So please keep this in mind if you are considering the purchase of a Eufonika H4, since it produces a large amount of voltage, yet a minimal amount of current. And of course, lower and mid impedance headphones require more current than they do voltage, while high impedance headphones require more voltage than current.

Thus the recommendation of using a higher impedance headphone with the H4.

I also believe that the H4 offers excellent value at its roughly $400 asking price (currency exchange rates etc.), and that this company continues to offer the type of price to performance ratio that Feliks Audio (another Polish audio manufacturer) once offered. That is, before Feliks established an international distribution, where its prices increased nearly four fold, in order to accommodate the dealer markups necessary to maintain the company's profitability.


Earlier...

The Eufonika has finally arrived at my home a full 7 weeks and a day after I ordered it. Unfortunately, the H4 spent most of the past 7 weeks in U.S. Customs. Since in the past I have had international packages pass through U.S. Customs in under 24 hours, I have no idea why the H4 was held up for so long, unless it was due to increased traffic through this system during the holiday season.

There was initial tracking information on the H4 prior to it leaving Poland. However, from the time it left Poland (11/25/2019) until the actual arrival time that USPS updated to (1/3/2020)- three weeks after the package's 12/09/2019 original delivery date - there was virtually no information on the H4.

This almost complete lack of tracking information makes one wonder why a tracking number is even used in this particular instance, since while the package's location is unknown, the seller as well as the customer are left to wonder whatever became of the package. Especially when the package does not arrive until weeks after it should have.

I am just glad that the H4 has finally arrived.

First impressions are as follows: If the H4 was sold in the United States by a boutique audio company, it would probably cost between $750 and $1000, after dealer markup.

At $400, this headphone amplifier is a steal. It is built beautifully, has a hefty feel to it, and it's finished like a very nice piece of furniture. The real wood trim is a light color and really looks nice in contrast to the black surface of the H4. The H4 is also quite large for a headphone amplifier. It looks somewhat like a Bottlehead Crack OTL headphone amp, except that the chassis on the Eufonika is wider, lower, and more nicely finished.

The H4 is a fully class A bias, output transformer-less headphone amplifier, which means that the H4 is designed to work with higher impedance headphones like the Sennheiser HD650 (Massdrop HD6XX) and HD600.

Unlike lower impedance headphones which need lots of current to drive them (especially planar magnetic headphones), the HD650 and HD600 need lots of voltage to drive them.

Personally, I would not recommend using the H4 with lower impedance headphones, since this is not what it was designed for. I also think that in regular use, attempting to drive lower impedance headphones (especially planar magnetics) could damage this headphone amplifier.

Please keep in mind that this is just my opinion, and that any questions regarding Eufonika products should be directed towards Wieslaw, the owner of this company.

If you are from the United States, Google Eufonika to find the company's Website, and then use the English translator to translate the Webpage into English.

I also like the fact that Wieslaw has incorporated a delay switch into the H4's circuit topology, in order to avoid any electrical spikes that might damage a pair of headphones during the H4's warm up.

When the H4 is turned on, a red LED lights for about 30 seconds, before the LED turns green, indicating that the H4 is now ready for use.

I have also noticed that while earlier H4 headphone amplifiers did not include a preamp output, Wieslaw has added a pair of preamplifier outputs on the back of my H4, so that it can be used as both a headphone amplifier and preamplifier.

I would imagine that they are probably now standard on all Eufonika headphone amplifiers.

Thus far, I am very pleased with the Eufonika H4 and look forward to updating my experiences with it in the future. It is only the second *OTL headphone amplifier I have ever owned. The first is the Little Dot MK2.

Moreover, having replaced the input driver tubes with a NOS pair of Mullards, the Little Dot MK2 may well be the value champ (I only paid $140 for it delivered) of OTL headphone amplifiers; especially when given the tube rolling capabilities of the MK2.

*The first time I had ever heard an OTL amplifier was through an old 50 WPC Futterman H3 from the 1950s, which sounded very nice with a pair of 15 Ohm Rogers LS3/5A's that I was using at the time. I'd purchased the H3 specifically for use with the LS3/5A's because of the synergy between the two.

Earlier:

It's been over a month now and I'm still awaiting delivery of my H4 OTL headphone amplifier which has been shipped from the manufacturer; a small Polish company called Eufonika.

This is through no fault of the manufacturer. It was quickly shipped by them, however, my Eufonika H4 has been sitting in U.S. Customs for weeks now waiting to be passed on to USPS. Rumor has it that during the holiday season packages are just left sitting in customs, and that even U.S. customs' employees are very frustrated at the unnecessary backlog of packages, which they are told to let sit for a time before they process them.

As an audio company, Eufonika, is fast building a reputation for quality electronics offered an affordable price. I will write an update on the H4 when I receive it.

Another Polish company called Feliks Audio began building headphone amplifiers about a decade ago and quickly took the headphone community by storm, given the quality of these products and their low cost.

Feliks has since developed an international sales network, so the prices of its headphone amplifiers have gone up considerably now that they must be sold with the requisite dealer markup. They're still a good value relative to their competition, but not the absolute steal they once were. Those considering Feliks headphone amplifiers, may also want to take a look at Eufonika, given the company's use of quality components and direct sales; the Eufonika headphone amplifiers are still in the "steal" category. At least for the moment!


Schiit Lokius Balanced 6 Band Graphic Equalizer - Schiit's Done It Again!
Availability - New Through Schiit A Stock


Update: There's a 2 to 4 week wait for receiving a new Schiit Lokius, so the reviews will start to trickle in slowly. A few of the people who have had access to the Lokius thus far, have had good things to say about it.

I know that the LOKI Mini and Mini + are very popular, and I'm certain that with its balanced circuitry, the Lokius will be even more popular.

I am going to purchase a Lokius for use with the fully balanced headphone amplifiers that I own. In particular, the Cavalli Liquid Platinum that I purchased at 50% off during the Monoprice 2020 Holiday Season. The basic system will be comprised of a brand new Amazon Fire HD10 Version 11 for streaming Internet audio and video content, Schiit Modius DAC, Schiit Lokius graphic equalizer, and the Cavalli Liquid Platinum - all used in balanced configuration.

I will be using several different headphones with this system ranging from planars to dynamics, and I truly believe that it will define the law of diminishing returns in the head-fi hobby.

What continues to amaze me - coming from some very expensive home audio equipment that I owned years ago - is how good sounding Schiit Audio's equipment is. And how it costs only a small fraction of what my older Hi End audio gear cost.

As much as I am enjoying using my basic Schiit IEM head-fi system, I am really looking forward to the Autumn season and the cooler weather that it brings, to get back to using my full sized headphone system.

Earlier:

I remember Emailing Schiit about a year ago to inquire as to whether or not they had any intention of manufacturing an affordable balanced graphic equalizer. A member of the Schiit Audio staff replied very quickly and courteously; stating that while they could not discuss any particular product concept, many of the company's customers had asked about the possibility of obtaining such a device.

I remember writing about what my idea of a larger, balanced version of the LOKI Mini should be. A six band unit with the same footprint as the Modius and Magnius. I even wondered at the time if they would call the new tone control a Lokius, and if they could actually bring the unit in at under $300.

Well, as usual, Mike and Jason did not disappoint. While surfing their Website today (I usually do so at least three or four times a week), I noticed a new product was added right under the LOKI Mini +. What was it called? The Schiit Lokius!

The Lokius has six bands and offers both single ended and fully balanced inputs and outputs. The price? Just $299! And yes, I will be ordering one in the near future to use with with my Modius DAC.

What I like most about Jason and Mike is that rather than spinning their wheels talking about products that never actually materialize, these guys quietly develop products that their customers want, at an affordable price. And then bring them to market in a very unassuming way.

Is it any wonder why Schiit Audio has built such a loyal following over the years?

Thanks Mike, Jason and all of the crew at Schiit Audio, for once again delivering a great product at an almost ridiculously low price!


Schiit Modius DAC
Availability - New Through Schiit A Stock and B Stock/Used - Becoming More Common On Ebay


Update: I've been using my Schiit Modius for nearly a year now and continue to be very impressed with the quality of performance this DAC is capable of. Especially at its $199 retail price.

The Modius' sound is organic. It errs only by omission. It can be listened to for hours on end without fatigue. It has been reliable under daily use. It runs cool, which is great during the hot summer months.

I stated early on that I believe that the Modius is one of those rare products that sets the bar in regard to the concept of the law of diminishing returns in this head-fi hobby. And, I continue to believe this many months into ownership.

Mike and Jason have built a fine product in the Modius. And they should take great satisfaction in having done so.

Earlier: I had been wondering if Amazon Fire HD10 could be synchronized with the new Schiit Modius, so I ordered a micro usb - micro usb cable which arrived in the mail today.

It did work fine, making the Fire HD10 one the least expensive music servers on the face of the planet, whose USB output can be interfaced with a dedicated digital to analogue converter.

And surprisingly enough, it sounds quite good!

For $86.65 for the Fire HD10 version 9 (Amazon Prime Annual 48 hour sale) - including free shipping and sale tax - it makes one question the logic in spending thousands of dollars for a fancy music server. I know that many of these expensive servers offer more functionality than a small tablet, however, do they really sound that much better?

I have been using a Fire HD 10 as music server for quite awhile now, via its headphone output. However, I was curious to know if using it with an outboard DAC would be a significant improvement over the headphone output.

I would have to say that the DAC in the HD10 is average at best, and that the Schiit Modius is clearly better than the HD10 in every way. It is quieter and sound stages better. Macro and micro dynamics are better and there's more separation between the instruments. Even voices sound more realistic. There's also a greater sense of control and dynamics to the music which was absent through the headphone output of the HD10.

Is it a dramatic improvement? No. Yet, the difference is clearly noticeable. Especially the longer you listen. The Modius is great value for the money.

What I find of considerable interest here is that I have not been able to locate a single person who has interfaced an Amazon Fire tablet (or for that matter any tablet) with an outboard DAC. Even when I Emailed Schiit Audio (who were quick to respond) to inquire as to whether my *Fire HD10 could be interfaced with the Modius, I was told that it was possible, but that no one (presuming that he meant the company) had ever tried it.

So, I figured it would be a good idea to post this here for anyone who has a tablet, and been thinking about using it with an outboard DAC. It would seem that any micro usb to micro usb cable should work (or a USB C to a micro USB cable for the latest versions of the Amazon Fire HD10 and HD8, which now use a USB C port instead of the earlier micro USB found on the older versions of these tablets). I am using a cable from a company called Cerrxian, which I purchased on Amazon for under $10 - it sounds good.

Earlier...

Update: Today I received my B stock Modius. First impressions are as follows: Well built, nice aesthetic (especially when paired with the Asgard 3 or Magnius), sensibly sized.

As for sound, I would say that thus far the Modius sounds more open than the *Modi 2 Uber. Subtle, yet, better sound staging, more detail in the upper, mid and lower range. More air in the mid and upper treble region, and overall a greater sense of space between instruments. It is also more critical of source material than the Modi 2 Uber. The Modius will simply let you know how good or bad the material you're listening to is. With better quality material the Modius is quite good (a genuine bargain at its price).

*I recently purchased a Schiit Audio EITR USB to S/PDIF bridge, to use in place of the USB input of my Schiit Modi 2 Uber, which has never worked properly. The USB ports of my Amazon Fire HD 10 and Fire 7 tablets connect to the USB input on the EITR. The EITR has a coaxial output that connects to the coaxial input of a DAC - in this case the coaxial input of my Modi 2 Uber or my Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 DAC.

This upgrade has been a good one in that the sound of the Modi 2 Uber via the coax output of the EITR, has improved significantly over the sound of the Modi 2 Uber's own USB input. I would go as far as to say that the Modi 2 Uber now gives the Modius a run for its money sonically (both are outstanding DACs for the money {the EITR is an absolute must with the Modi 2 Uber}, and IMHO, represent the law of diminishing returns when it comes to DACS).

I also like comparing the sonic differences between the discrete output stage of the Modi 2 Uber and the Op Amp output stage of the Modius. The EITR has now resulted in the Modi 2 Uber staying in my system indefinitely; being rotated with the Modius as well as two vintage DACS: An Audio By Van Alstine Insight multibit dac from 2008 and a Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 from 1998.


As for the Schiit Audio Modius, I like it quite a bit when paired with the Asgard 3 and LOKI Mini graphic equalizer. I am also interested to see how the Modius pairs with several of my other headphone amplifiers, including my Loxjie P20. The P20 is the only fully balanced headphone amplifier that I own, so I will be interested to see how well it pairs with the Modius in balanced configuration. Especially how good this combination sounds with my Fostex T50 MK3 and HiFiman HE4XX.

Earlier...

Prior to 2017 when I purchased a Schiit Modi 2 Uber, I had not owned a separate DAC since the early 1990s. The Modi 2 Uber has been the only Schiit component that I feel was underwhelming in performance. The USB port in particular is very unreliable, even though performance through the optical and coaxial inputs is decent. Especially when the Modi 2 Uber has been left on for a few days.

I decided that I would upgrade the Uber when I found a *delta sigma DAC that I felt was worth the money. It has taken me three years of waiting (and researching more DACs then I care to mention) to find one that - based on the law of diminishing returns - is actually worth the money.

That DAC is the Schiit Modius.

*As for multibit dacs, I think that the best value is the Schiit Modi Multibit. It has offered class leading performance since it was first marketed by Schiit Audio back in 2016, and continues to do so four years later, having only had a minor firmware update since that time.

So this week I ordered a B stock Schiit Modius that I plan on using to replace my *Modi 2 Uber. I will update my experiences with the Modius when I receive it.

*Since adding a Schiit EITR USB to S/PDIF bridge to my system, I find that the sound of the Modi 2 Uber has improved significantly enough to keep it in my system, rather than discarding it. I will instead, rotate it with some of the other dacs that I have.


Garage 1217 Project Starlight V1
Availability - Available New From Garage 1217 Website And At Times E-bay/Rarely Available Used

About two years ago, I purchased a Garage1217 Project Starlight version I headphone amplifier used. I've really enjoy the flexibility of this well designed hybrid headphone amplifier.

What I like most about the Project Starlight is that not only can you roll many different *tubes with the Starlight, you can also roll different op amps. I can't think of another headphone amplifier that gives its user more flexibility than the Project Starlight. It is also the only Garage1217 headphone amplifier which allows you to roll op amps as well as tubes.

And the Starlight sounds really good with headphones in the 32 to 50 ohm impedance range, which includes many planar magnetic headphones.

*Recently, I began using an Electroharmonix 6H30 6 volt vacuum tube with my Project Starlight, and really think it's an ideal combination. The Starlight's midrange detail with this tube is sublime. I had never read of anyone using the 6H30 with the Starlight, so I E-mailed Jeremy Helms at Garage1217 and he said it would be fine to do so. Jeremy is the owner of this great little company and is always willing to offer helpful advice when it comes to fine tuning Garage1217 headphone amplifiers.

I have a few headphone amplifiers that are an excellent match with my higher impedance headphones, however, they really are not suited for use with planar magnetic headphones. They simply don't have enough current to drive these headphones properly.

This is where the Project Starlight (and some *other headphone amplifiers that I own) comes in.

Fortunately, I also have a number of good quality, inexpensive, higher current headphone amplifiers *(Schiit Asgard 3, Schiit Magni 3, Loxjie P20, Cavalli Liquid Spark, Garage1217 Project Starlight, JDS Labs ATOM). These are ideal for driving the inexpensive planar magnetic headphones that I own (Hifiman HE4XX & Fostex T50RP MK3). These headphone amplifiers range in cost from under $100 to just under $200, yet perform well above their price point. I use a Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer to tailor my headphones to the sound I prefer, which means that I don't have to physically modify these headphones to get the sound I want. It also means that I've reached the law of diminishing returns in this hobby, when the sound quality is so good, that it makes little to no sense to spend more money than I already have on headphone components.

The Starlight is rated for use with headphones ranging from 16 ohms to 300 ohms. I have used it successfully with all of my headphones, which range from 25 ohms all the way up to 600 ohms. What I like most about the Starlight is its black background - it is nearly as quiet as my JDS Labs Atom - and its tremendous flexibility. This is not a lush sounding tube amplifier like Garage1217's Project Sunrise/Horizon, which both operate on a class A bias circuit.

Instead, the Starlight is a very neutral sounding headphone amplifier that truly excels with high quality recordings. It simply amplifies whatever signal you send it. Feed it a poor signal and it sounds poor; feed it a good signal and it sounds good. It's as simple as that.

And while I enjoy listening to my Sennheiser HD 6XX and HD 600 with my Project Starlight, because it produces more current than voltage, it does not have the same synergy with these headphones as it does with my Fostex T50RP MK3 and Hifiman HE-4XX. In particular, the midrange produced with these combinations is truly outstanding in this price range.

The quality of the components used in the Project Starlight is first rate, as is the attention to detail in its factory assembly. Jeremy Helms, the owner of Garage1217, is clearly a perfectionist who loves what he does. And this shows in his products. The designer of these amplifiers, a man named Frans who hails from the Netherlands, donates of his time freely. I have read many posts by Frans on different Hi-Fi forums, and while being very low key, he is highly intelligent and a true asset to the Hi-Fi community.


Little Dot MKII OTL
Availability - Commonly Available As New Old Stock On E-bay/Also Available Used From Time To Time Via Internet Venues

The Little Dot MKII is an "oldie but a goodie." It's one of the neatest headphone amplifiers on the market. It made its debut about a decade ago and was produced through a third version. NOS units of the third version are still sold over the Internet, and quite commonly through Ebay.

The Little Dot MKII is a push pull circuit, using a single ended pair of RCA inputs and a pair of RCA outputs, which also allows the MKII to be used as a preamplifier.

This amplifier also allows for quite a bit of tube rolling through bridge pins, and two dip switches allow one to change the output impedance so that various headphones can be used.

In this Hi-Fi enthusiast's experience, the Little Dot MKII only really excels with higher impedance headphones (as do all output transformerless amplifiers), and does particularly well with the Sennheiser HD 650, HD 600 and the ancient, but great sounding, AKG K240 Sextett from the 1970's.

I paid about $140 for mine, and then upgraded the input tubes with a matched pair of NOS Mullard tubes for about $25 (which sound quite good) for a total investment of about $165 US.

The Little Dot MKII has a huge following in the headphone community, given its performance to value ratio. There's a Little Dot MKII forum on the Headfi Website which discusses many different aspects of this great little headphone amplifier.


Audio By Van Alstine Insight Multibit DAC
Availability - Used Only - Rare But Sometimes Found On Ebay & Other Internet Venues Including AudioGon, US AudioMart and US Canuckmart


I have always liked Frank Van Alstine's philosophy on audio. Make the most of what you have. Create an excellent circuit topology, and then incorporate it into the most cost effective chassis possible. This way you can compete with the best companies in the Hi-End Audio business, while selling your components for a fraction of the price of the most expensive brands.

Evidently, Frank was onto something long ago, because he has weathered many an economic storm in this hobby for nearly 50 years, while building one of the most charismatic brands and reputations in the Hi-End audio hobby.

So when I recently had the opportunity to purchase a used AVA Insight Multibit DAC (circa 2008 for about $1250 into 2021 US Dollars) for around $350 delivered, I snapped the Insight up quickly. I have not regretted doing so, since sonically, it's a heck of a nice sounding digital to analogue converter. And not just for the money either. The Insight sounds great regardless of price. And it makes many multi thousand dollar DACS seem very overpriced by comparison.

I rotate the Insight with my other three DAC'S - all of which IMHO - set the bar when it comes to the law of diminishing returns in audio components.


Violectric HPA V100
Availability - Used Only Via Internet Venues - Fairly Rare

UPDATE: I recently received a voltage converter, so for the first time in the six months since I purchased my Violectric HPA V100, I have finally been able to actually listen to it. First impressions are as follows: The sound of the V100 is clean and dynamic. There is an intimacy to this headphone amplifier that reminds me of my Hagerman Audio Castanet, Eddie Current EC/SS and Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline HR2. It's a bit on the dark side, but very involving to listen to. There are subtle details in the music that many headphone amplifiers either miss completely or just gloss over. The V100 focuses on these details and presents them in a very emotive way. I especially like the tone of the V100.

Most mid level audio components simply reproduce a performance in a more generic way, while better (and often more expensive) components draw you into a performance. The V100 is in the latter category here.

Earlier...

I purchased my Violectric HPA V100 during the 2020 holiday season, only to find that when it arrived, it was set for 230 volts instead of 110. The seller did not list that the unit was 230 volts, even though he knew that it might be purchased by someone in North America, and the 230V fuse was soldered into place. Only after the V100 did not play music (even though the pilot light came on) did I surmise that it was probably a voltage incompatibility - which the seller eventually confirmed.

The unit is in excellent cosmetic condition, so I am presuming that it will work properly with the voltage converter that I recently purchased.

I will update my experiences with this classic headphone amplifier when the voltage converter arrives.

As for first impressions. The Violectric HPA V100 is smaller than I thought it would be based on photos I have seen of the amplifier. It is also beautifully made, while offering plenty of functionality. My V100 also has a Violectric internal dac installed. This V100 cost $400 delivered. New price was about $1000 with the dac option in 2010 US Dollars; about $1250 in the present day.


Entech Audio Number Cruncher 205.2 DAC
Availability - Used Only - Can Be Found From Time To Time On Various Internet Venues, However, Not Commonly Available


UPDATE: Having owned an Entech Audio Number Cruncher 205.2 for the better part of a year, I continue to be impressed with this vintage DAC. It really has a very pleasant tone. It has none of the digital brightness that many other digital to analogue converters are known for, which makes it easy to listen to for hours on end. Used Number Cruncher 203.2 and 205.2 DAC's are not that easy to find, so if you do see one that's in nice shape for under $100, you might want to consider snapping it up.

Earlier...

A few months back I found a 1998 Entech Audio Number Cruncher 205.2 DAC for sale. It was groady looking, yet was said to be in proper working order. The seller was asking $175 - which given the physical appearance of this DAC - seemed overpriced. So, I offered $70, which was accepted. The item arrived for a total cost of around $76.

Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Entech was in better physical condition than it appeared to be in the seller's Ebay photos. Someone had decided to paint the aluminum cover on this particular unit, which I will eventually remove with some washing soda and elbow grease.

Aside from this, the DAC itself is in very nice condition. Parts quality is actually quite good, even if, aesthetically, the DAC itself looks like a miniature airplane hangar.

The following is a technical description from the manufacturer: "Technical Description: The 205.2 starts with an input selector (Coax 1/Coax 2/Optical) and buffer stage, followed by a Crystal Semiconductor CS8412 input receiver. It also has a Data Locked light and Phase selector button. Conversion is performed by a Crystal CS4329 20-bit delta-sigma DAC, and a Burr-Brown OPA2134 op-amp for the output stage and analog low-pass filter. Topnotch components: 1% metal-film resistors and film caps are used throughout the signal paths. This DAC includes the in-line 115V/16V wall-wart transformer feeding onboard power supplies with a batch of independent voltage regulators--a total of six."

As for its sound, I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. I will update my experiences with the 205.2 in the near future.


NVA AP10H
Availability - New Through NVA Audio Website/Used - Scarce - Only Occasionally Available Used Via Internet Venues

Having read about this rare and classic headphone amplifier a number of years ago, I had been searching for an NVA AP10H headphone amp for several years, before eventually finding a used one in excellent shape. The AP10H embodies the simplicity of circuit design that the late NVA owner, *Richard Dunn, exemplified in all of his audio amplifiers.

There is a purity to the sound of the AP10H that is palpable; It is a very clean and dynamic sounding piece of Hi-End audio gear with a black background. My higher impedance headphones sound wonderful on this headphone amplifier - as good as any headphone amplifier I have ever used them with.

It truly excels with acoustic instrumentals including the piano, guitar, cello, violin and harp.

With an excellent recording the NVA AP10H will get you as close to a live performance as you can get regardless of price. Few headphone amplifiers at any price can make this claim. The Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet can also do this. And the Eddie Current EC/SS comes very close.

However, in spite of its great sound with higher impedance headphones, the AP10H does not offer quite the flexibility of my Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet or Eddie Current EC/SS, in that it will not run lower impedance headphones well. This is an earlier design; the later version of the AP10H (after 2003) is supposed to run both lower, mid, and higher impedance headphones well.

*Richard passed away during the Spring of 2019. He was a brilliant circuit designer, and a very polarizing figure in the Hi-End audio world. He will be missed, however, his talent will live on in the future of his company (**NVA Audio), which has now been purchased by two other gentlemen. May you Rest In Peace, Richard.

**NVA has revamped the AP10H headphone amplifier. It is now available in three different configurations ranging from about $650 for a single box headphone amplifier, an integrated amplifier version of the AP10H which also has a headphone jack for about $700, and a two box AP10H headphone amplifier (the second box contains a separate power supply) for about $1200. These prices exclude shipping (this in addition to any possible custom's taxes for those who purchase this amplifier from outside of Great Britain).


Monoprice Monolith Cavalli Liquid Platinum
Availability - New Through Monoprice/Used - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues Such As AudioGon, US Audio Mart & Canuck Mart


*Update: I have recently been using the Cavalli Liquid Platinum in single ended mode, with a pair of Fostex T50RP MK3 planar magnetic headphones. I've been pleasantly surprised by the sound quality, since even Dr. Cavalli has stated that the LP was created to be a fully balanced headphone amplifier. And that the single ended feature was simply for convenience.

I must say that I find the single ended input to sound just as nice as the balanced input. Maybe even a bit smoother, yet not quite as detailed. For most fairly efficient headphones I think that the single ended mode on the LP is quite good. Only with less efficient headphones such as the Hifiman HE6, Susvara, or certain Abyss headphones, would the additional power of the balanced inputs on the LP be necessary.

The more I listen to the LP the more I like it. I have heard of some people modifying the LP with better capacitors. However, I really don't see the need for it, since the LP sounds quite good as it is.

Of course, there will also be those Hi-Fi enthusiasts who chase gear, while hyping whatever the latest flavor of the month's products are. Yet, there are those of us who appreciate an excellent product that will stand the test of time, while continuing to provide enjoyment long after the "new toy impression" has worn off. The Liquid Platinum is one of such products.

I must also say that the LP is a tremendous value at its $399.99 sale price. Any price lower than this is an outright steal!

Earlier... I've received the new balanced cable that I ordered for my Sennheiser HD600 and HD6XX headphones. Having done some brief listening thus far, these headphones paired with the Cavalli Liquid Platinum (in balanced mode) are very promising. And while I have heard in the past that the HD600, HD650 and HD6XX scale very well with better quality DAC's and headphone amplifiers, I have now confirmed it for myself - having used these headphones with a DNA Starlett and Cavalli Liquid Platinum (as well as a few other excellent single ended headphone amplifiers including a Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet, NVA AP10 and Ray Samuels Audio HR-2).

Earlier...

I recently purchased another balanced cable so that I can use My Cavalli Liquid Platinum (which now has close to 100 hours on it - and continues to sound better and better) with my Sennheiser HD600 and HD6XX headphones. Overall, I must say that this is one of the least fatiguing headphone amplifiers that I have ever heard. It has a nice bloom to the midrange, while still offering excellent timber, depth, width, layering, resolution, macro and micro dynamics, and sound staging.

Earlier...

I can see why many LP owners have stated that they like this headphone amplifier as an all rounder, since it does so much well. For me, it faithfully honors the music, and that is all that I can ask of any audio component.

Was it worth its $399.99 price on sale at Monoprice? Without a doubt, my answer is yes!

Earlier... I've had my Cavalli Liquid Platinum for over a month now and continue to be impressed with its performance. It is a wonderful sounding headphone amplifier that works well with headphones of virtually all impedances.

I recently purchased a balanced headphone cable to use for the LP's balanced XLR output, so that I could use the LP with some of my balanced headphones. They include the Hifiman HE4XX and Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon. I'll need another balanced cable for the HD600 and HD6XX, as well as yet another for the Fostex T50RP MK3.

I'll update my experiences with these headphones when I receive these cables.

Earlier:

I received my new Cavalli Liquid Platinum yesterday and have spent the past day listening to it. First impressions are as follows: smaller than I expected, nicely finished, interesting styling. Sound-wise, the Liquid Platinum sounds like my Cavalli Liquid Spark, only noticeably better. Specifically, the Liquid Platinum has the Cavalli Audio house sound, however, there's more of everything than the Liquid Spark.

Based on early impressions, I think that the Liquid Platinum sounds quite good, even though it has yet to be broken in. It does run fairly warm once it has been on for a while, yet nowhere as hot as my Schiit Asgard 2 (which can double as a small space heater during the winter months).

IMHO, at the original price of $769.99 + sales tax and free shipping, the Liquid Platinum was a good deal. At the $399.99 price it is a genuine bargain - if not an outright steal. Especially with a Monoprice backed 5 year factory warranty.

Earlier...

The Holiday Season is the time of year for nice discounts, which is why I purchase new audio equipment now. I rarely purchase new gear, unless it's B stock or closeout, which is where the good deals are to be had.

A few years ago I read about Dr. Alex Cavalli deciding to partner with Monoprice, in order to manufacture a few updated versions of two headphone amplifiers, that he was going to build (prior to his company's closing).

I decided to purchase one of these headphone amplifiers in 2018 - an open box Cavalli Liquid Spark. The LS has turned out to be a great little headphone amplifier.

I was always fascinated by the Cavalli Liquid Platinum, and had read many positive reviews on Websites such as Headfi, Super Best Audio Friends and Audiosciencereview. However, I did not want to spend the roughly $800 to purchase a new one, since I usually cap individual spending purchases for this hobby at *$400 per item.

*I do have a TOTL (Top Of The Line) headphone amplifier that I am very likely to purchase in the future, which will greatly exceed that cap - a headphone amplifier manufactured by DNA audio. In fact, DNA owner, Donald North, has graciously allowed me to sample this headphone amplifier in my own home for a few weeks.

As such, I am presently testing a DNA Starlett and will comment on it within the next few days.

Thus far, the DNA Starlett has lived up to the incredible reputation that it has built online, and Donald North has been an absolute pleasure to deal with. He, like this audio enthusiast, is also a Saab enthusiast!

As for the Cavalli Liquid Platinum, it was on sale at Monoprice for $400, so for about $434 including sales tax and free shipping, I purchased one.

It should arrive soon and I will comment on it then.


Loxjie P20
Availability - New On Amazon And E-bay/Also Commonly Available Used Via Internet Venues

Update: Spring 2021: I've owned my Loxjie P20 for over two years now and if anything, I appreciate its sound quality and value even more now than I did when I purchased it.

The P20 must be considered the real "sleeper" headphone amplifier in the $100 price bracket, because of its Chinese lineage. I say this because the P20 did not get the attention early on in the North American market that it deserved.

When the P20 debuted in 2018, it had no competition at all. It retailed for just under $100, was fully balanced, used quality components, and had a tube input stage and a digital stepped volume pot. Its innards were also housed in an attractive, well constructed aluminum chassis.

Yet, it was largely ignored, until word got out in regard to what a bargain this little gem of a headphone amplifier is.

In single ended mode, the P20's performance is - to say the least - unimpressive. However, set for fully balanced mode, the P20 becomes a formidable competitor to headphone amplifiers costing more than four times its price; and in many instances, bests them sonically.

In addition to the P20, I also own three other headphone amplifiers in the $100 price range: an original Schiit Magni 3, a JDS Labs Atom, and a Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Spark.

The Liquid Spark and the P20 are my favorite of the four of these headphone amplifiers, because they have a more organic sound than the ATOM or Magni 3.

As such, they don't suffer from the listener fatigue than the ATOM and Magni 3 can, especially when the latter two are paired with more aggressive sounding headphones. This is not to say that the Magni 3 and ATOM can't sound good. They can, except that the headphones chosen for use with these headphone amplifiers must be less aggressive sounding.

The anti "Chi-Fi" detractors have been quick to disregard the P20, in an attempt to find any faults that they can with it. However, the P20 offers so much value for one's audio dollar, that objective headphone enthusiasts who are looking for value, quickly recognize just how good the P20 is and snap them up.

Since its debut, the P20 has taken on a kind of cult status, offering exemplary performance for very little money. The P20 runs my Hifiman HE4XX headphones beautifully in fully balanced mode, as well as my Sennheiser HD600 and HD6XX headphones. When paired with these headphones, a Schiit Modius DAC and a Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer, this system can be end game for many head-fi enthusiasts - and at a very reasonable price.

Earlier...

The Loxjie P20 was new to the headphone audio market in the Fall of 2018. At the time it had little competition in its price range; the Schiit Magni 3 (which had been around for a year), the Monoprice Monolith Cavalli Liquid Spark, and the JDS Labs Atom - both of which were introduced about the same time as the P20.

The P20 is the least expensive headphone amplifier ever offered with a fully balanced circuit topology and stepped volume control. In single ended mode its performance is lethargic and lackluster. However, in *fully balanced mode the Loxjie P20 actually sounds surprisingly good with a number of my headphones. And it truly excels with the inexpensive planar magnetic headphones I own - the Hifiman HE4XX and the Fostex T50RP MK3. I upgraded the stock input tubes with a pair of Riverside Audio replacements, and they offer subtle, yet significant improvement to the sound of the P20.

* I have recently been using the Loxjie P20 with my Schiit Modius dac in fully balanced mode. This combo sounds quite good and offers great value for the money. I only wish that the LOKI Mini graphic equalizer were also balanced, so that I could use it in this balanced system. The P20/Modius combo cost $309 delivered (the Modius was Schiit B Stock) and IMO rivals any headphone amplifier/dac on the market at this price.

What I find most impressive about the Loxjie P20 is that when it is matched with a suitable headphone like the Fostex T50RP MK3 or Hifiman HE4XX, the midrange of the P20 offers detail that is palpable. Just make sure to use well recorded source material, because the P20 will reveal every flaw in a recording. Something that is remarkable for a sub $100 headphone amplifier.

As for build quality, the P20 is very well built. It's chassis is aluminum and its circuit board is well laid out using quality components, including WIMA capacitors.

For the money the Loxjie P20 is the proverbial no brainer.

It faithfully honors the music and sounds much better than it has a right to at its low price. It punches well above its price class and should be on the shortlist of anyone who's looking for a well built, great sounding headphone amplifier for a peanut's price.

Those looking to enter this hobby without spending a fortune will find that this is indeed the best time ever documented to be a Headphone enthusiast. I say this because there are several excellent sub $100 headphone amplifiers to choose from. And, there are also several sub $200 headphones to choose from, including my personal favorites - the Fostex T50RP MK3 and the HiFiman HE4XX.


Hagerman Technology Castanet/Hagerman Audio Labs HA10
Availability - Used Only - Since only a handful of Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet/HA10 headphone amplifiers were ever manufactured, finding one is like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Update: I have owned my Hagerman Audio Castanet for over a year now, and continue to be impressed with its sound quality and flexibility. My Castanet was actually owned by Jim Hagerman for 12 years before I purchased it, and was the first of a handful of Castanet's ever built by him.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Castanet is that because it started out as a DIY kit, the Castanet was very easy to customize with myriad different parts. As a result, no two Castanets are likely to be exactly the same. Moreover, Jim believes that if you design a superior circuit and then use good quality parts in the construction of the circuit, it will sound better than a lesser circuit built with more expensive parts.

Jim used better quality capacitors in my Castanet than what was originally called for in his DIY half kit. However, the stock transformers in this particular Castanet are excellent "off the shelf" components made by *Hammond.

*Hammond builds very good transformers, even if they are not quite at the level of those manufactured by companies such as Electra-Print, Magnequest, Audio Note, Edcor, or Lundahl. Moreover, Hammonds' transformers are significantly less expensive than the aforementioned ones.

As previously stated, virtually all of the Castanets were built as either half kits or full kits. The HA10 (the same headphone amplifier as the Castanet, just manufactured under the Hagerman Audio Labs brand) was Jim Hagerman's first fully manufactured headphone amplifier. Like the version of the fully manufactured Castanet, the HA10 sold factory direct for $1500 in 2008 (about $1800 in present day value or $2400 with the requisite dealer markup). Because the Castanet and HA10 were only manufactured for a brief period of time, they are extremely rare. As such, they are almost never seen on the used market.

Having started out offering the Castanet as only a partial kit, Jim Hagerman eventually decided to manufacture complete Castanets through his company. As I stated earlier, the initial *Castanet (which I now own after having purchased it from Jim - essentially serial number one) is comprised of an all aluminum chassis, which houses a parafeed triode design based on the 6H30 Triode. It was manufactured under the Hagerman Technology name (HAGTECH) during the late 2000's, at a time when parafeed designs - such as those from Beezar Audio - had become more popular.

*Jim would later open Hagerman Audio Labs (HAL) and change the name of the Castanet to the HA10, while offering a matching DA converter called the DA10. While the Castanet was initially produced as a half kit, both the HA10 and DA10 were produced only as fully manufactured components. They are also very rare.

As previously stated, these units were produced in very limited numbers, so finding a Castanet/HA10 is kind of like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Fortunately, Jim Hagerman now manufactures another terrific headphone amplifier called the *Tuba, which continues to receive positive acclaim given its superb sound quality, build quality and 10 year transferable warranty.

*More on the Hagerman Audio Labs Tuba can be found at the end of the Castanet/HA10 post

Earlier...

Of all of my headphone amplifiers, the Hagerman Castanet is my favorite. It's a unique "single-ended, zero-feedback, parafeed triode design" that allows for practically no distortion. With only one tube, the Castanet may look like a hybrid headphone amplifier. However, even though there is only one tube in the Castanet, the tube is linked to both the input and output stages of this amplifier via its circuitry, making it a full tube stage headphone amplifier.

According to Jim, he designed the Castanet using the Sennheiser HD600 and Grado SR125, so that this headphone amplifier would be able to effectively run both high and low impedance headphones. For the same reason, Craig Uthus, the founder of Eddie Current, used the Grado RS-1 and HD600 when designing his first solid state headphone amplifier - The Eddie Current EC/SS.

This is an illustration of how great minds think alike! It's also why my Hagerman Castanet and Eddie Current EC/SS sound great using both high and low impedance headphones.

What amazes me most about the Castanet is that I can run it at full volume without hearing any distortion at all, while the chassis stays cool to the touch - regardless of how many hours the Castanet is left on. This is a TOTL (Top Of The Line) headphone amplifier which does everything well. Its tonality, sound staging, layering of instruments and overall sense of space is as good as I have heard.

Moreover, the Castanet's background is extremely quiet. In fact, this headphone amplifier has the nicest sounding midrange I have ever heard from a headphone amp, and its bass, midrange and treble are extremely well balanced. If I could only use one word to describe the Castanet, I'd use smooth.

The Castanet also easily powers every headphone I have, from my high impedance 600 ohm AKG K240 Sextett, and Sennheiser HD650 and HD600 (both 300 ohms), to lower impedance headphones like my Audioquest Nighthawk Carbons (25 ohms), Hifiman HE 4XX (35 ohms), and Fostex T50RP MK3 (50 ohms).

The Castanet has been out of production for over a decade now. However, as I'd mentioned earlier, Jim recently designed a new headphone amplifier called the Hagerman Audio Labs Tuba (that's based on the Castanet/HA10 circuit toplogy), which uses a pair of EL 84 tubes. As such, the Tuba works quite well with both *In Ear Monitors and Planar Magnetic headphones, as well as Dynamic headphones. Given its build quality, sound quality, and a ten year transferable factory warranty, the Tuba represents an extraordinary value at a delivered price of only $650.

*The Tuba is easily one of the best headphone amplifiers on the market to pair with IEM's (inner ear monitors), due to how quiet it is.

Jim is unique to this industry in that he succeeds in creating new electronic circuits, that give his audio designs a significant advantage over his competition. I truly enjoy listening to music through my Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet.


Schiit Asgard 3


Availability - New Through Schiit Audio Website/Used Through E-bay And Other Internet Venues

Update: It's Spring of 2021 and I continue to be impressed with the overall performance of the Schiit Asgard 3. Given its affordability, power and ability to run virtually all headphones, the Asgard continues to be an incredible value. IMHO, perhaps the best value in affordable headphone amplifiers.

Earlier... Having owned the Asgard 3 for the past six months my impressions remain as they were earlier. This is a fantastic headphone amplifier for the money. Arguably, the best value in the headphone hobby.

I read recently that Schiit has also come out with a new DAC which is placed between the Modi and the Bifrost. It's called the Schiit Modius ($199) and it has the same footprint as the Asgard 3. Unlike Schiit's Modi line of DACS, the Modius comes in a balanced configuration.

The Modius was recently given a very positive review by Amir at the Audio Science Review Website.

Matching the Asgard 3 with the Modius offers a great Amp/DAC combination for under $400!

Earlier...

After using the Asgard 3 for the past few weeks my earlier impressions remain the same. This is one heck of a headphone amplifier for the money.

The A3 effectively runs every headphone I own, and it sounds good with all of them. It pairs especially well with my planar magnetic headphones (Hifiman HE4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3), as well as my Audioquest Nighthawk Carbons.

Jason Stoddard has stated that he thinks that the Asgard 3 sounds more class A than its Asgard 2 predecessor. While I have never owned an A2, I do have a few class A bias headphone amplifiers, and the Asgard 3 sounds very similar to them (especially in the midrange). When you factor in the flexibility of the A3, its great sound and quality construction, $199 price and five year factory warranty, the Asgard 3 is an even more impressive value than the Magni 3 - which was already an exceptional value.

If there's a better value in the sub $200 headphone amplifier market than the Schiit Asgard 3, I have yet to see it.

Earlier...

My Schiit Asgard 3 arrived this morning. Impressions thus far are as follows: Very nicely finished (how does Schitt build something this nice for under $200?). The Asgard 3 really has a nice heft to it and a solidity to its chassis that belies its price.

Sonically, after about two hours, the sound of the Asgard 3 is the typical Schiit house sound; that is to say plenty of detail in the midrange, good bass and very nice treble. The treble is not what I would call sparkly on top, however, very clean. Overall, there's a nice black background of silence with the A3.

The midrange is almost tube-like (which I personally really like). The chassis on the A3 runs warm, but nothing like the A2. However, the right half of the bottom of the A3 chassis does get very warm. Not fry-an-egg-on HOT - like the A2 - but very warm.

Interestingly enough, the left bottom side of the A3's chassis only gets warm.

IMHO, the Asgard 3 is a great amplifier for under $200 (heck, even $300 or $400); especially with Schiit's 5 year warranty. When I purchased my Magni 3 back in the Fall of 2017 I realized it was a great value. In my opinion, the A3 raises the bar here and is an even better value than the Magni 3.

Make the 5 year warranty transferable and you just about have the perfect affordable headphone amplifier.

Nicely done, Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard!

Earlier:

After some great reviews I recently ordered a Schiit Asgard 3 which I am awaiting delivery of. This is only the second Schiit Audio headphone amplifier I have ordered, having purchased a Magni 3 two years ago.

I'll update my experiences with the Asgard 3 after receiving it.


Monoprice Cavalli Audio Monolith Liquid Spark
Availability - New On Monoprice Website/Also Commonly Available Used On E-bay And Other Internet Venues

Update: I've owned a Cavalli Liquid Spark for over two years now and continue to enjoy this little gem of a headphone amplifier. Having purchased the Cavalli Liquid Platinum over the holidays, I have since been able to carefully compare these two headphone amplifiers.

So, is the LP so much better than the Liquid Spark that it warrants a price increase that's more than 7 fold?

It all comes down to the law of diminishing returns. I think that while both of these amplifiers have the Cavalli house sound, the Liquid Platinum is clearly the better headphone amplifier in every way. Better sound staging, width, depth, micro and macro dynamics; better resolution and layering.

And in fully balanced mode the LP has much more power than the LS, which enables it to run just about any headphone.

IMHO, the LP is also the best sounding headphone amplifier in the sub $1000 market, which is no easy feat. I say this given how competitive this market is.

However, the LS is close enough to the LP to be an endgame component for many enthusiasts in this hobby. What it accomplishes at around $100 is truly impressive. I have four headphone amplifiers in the $100 price range; each of which I have listened to and compared over the past few years: The original Schiit Magni 3, the JDS Labs Atom, the Loxjie P20 and the Cavalli Liquid Spark.

While I think that the four of these headphone amplifiers offer benchmark performance in the $100 price range, I prefer the Loxjie P20 and Cavalli Liquid Spark over the other two. Why? Because to me they sound more organic.

While the Magni 3 and the JDS Labs Atom have a more aggressive and incisive sound, I find them to be more fatiguing to listen to for any length of time.

It's not that they don't sound good. It is just that they have to be more carefully matched with a headphone that is less aggressive sounding. Equalization also helps here.

Which brings me back to the Liquid Spark and why I like it so much. The LS has a rich full sound that while not particularly accurate, reminds me more of a tube amplifier than a solid state one.

And for this reason I can listen to it for hours on end without suffering from listener fatigue. The LS also puts out over 2 watts of power into 32 ohms and about 1.5 watts of power into 50 ohms; ideal for many planar magnetic headphones, including my Fostex T50RP MK3, and Hifiman HE 4XX.

Dr. Alex Cavalli has done a fine job of collaborating with Monoprice to bring the Liquid Platinum and Liquid Spark to market. And by doing so, allowed the masses to finally experience the type of sound quality that only a small group of Hi-Fi enthusiasts would have been able to experience in the past.

Earlier:

I purchased this headphone amplifier as an open box back in the Winter of 2018. A month earlier, the Liquid Spark had just hit the market and there were already several positive reviews about Alex Cavalli having another winner on his hands. I had decided to pick one up but wanted to wait to see if there might be some open box units for sale. Sure enough, a few surfaced on E-bay a short time later, so I bought one.

For starters, I like the Cavalli Liquid Spark for the same reason I like all of my headphone amplifiers. It represents great value for one's audio dollar. The LS is well made, nice looking and pleasant sounding. It also puts out plenty of power; especially into 32 to 50 ohm impedance headphones. Thus it came as a pleasant surprise that the LS had no problem driving my *Hifiman HE4XX (35 ohms)and *Fostex T50RP MK3 (50 ohms) planar magnetic headphones with plenty of headroom to spare. The mids have a bit of warmth to them, yet don't lose their definition in the process like some overly colored sounding headphone amplifiers do.

*I think that these two headphones from Fostex and Hifiman represent the law of diminishing returns in the audio hobby, since one would have to spend considerably more money to obtain a headphone that improves on them. I've found that all of my sub $100 headphone amplifiers work quite well with my Fostex T50RP MK3 and Hifiman HE4XX. When combined with my Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer, I have reached the law of diminishing returns with either of these headphones and the following headphone amplifiers: Schiit Magni 3, Schiit Asgard 3, Monolith Cavalli Liquid Spark, Garage1217 Project Starlight, JDS Labs ATOM and the Loxjie P20.

The Liquid Spark is also an excellent match with the Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon. There's a synergy between these two components (the same is true of the *Nighthawk Carbon with my Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet and Eddie Current EC/SS headphone amplifiers) which brings out the best in each of them.

*The Nighthawk Carbon is a polarizing headphone which some people really like, while others don't. It can sound dark and a bit closed in without equalization. However, with proper equalization the Nighthawk Carbon's midrange and treble open up considerably to create a very spacious sound. And I have yet to wear a set of headphones which is more comfortable than the Nighthawk Carbons.

If a headphone amplifier can be said to be musical, then the LS is musical.

As for the Cavalli Liquid Spark, the better your source the better it will sound. However, it is not as punishing of poor sources as some of my more expensive headphone amplifiers are, which can be of benefit given the considerable amount of poorly recorded music uploaded to the Internet.

On the other hand, the LS really sounds great when it is fed a first rate digital recording. I like this amplifier for a number of reasons, but perhaps most of all, because it enables someone who cannot afford one of Alex Cavalli's more expensive headphone amp's, to still be able to sample the Cavalli house sound at a much more affordable price.

For this Hi-Fi enthusiast, this headphone amp is a no brainer. It sounds good, looks good and is well built. The LS will also run just about any headphone adequately - and Hi-Fi wise - costs (about $99!) next to nothing.

On top of this, it also takes up next to no space! After nearly a year of ownership I am still happily rotating my LS in and out of my headphone system, where it's found a permanent home.

I've also read recently that Monoprice is coming out with matching DAC's for both the Cavalli Liquid Spark and Cavalli Liquid Platinum, which should be for sale over the next few months.


Eddie Current EC/SS
Availability - Used Only - Very Scarce, only about 25 units were ever built, so it's nearly impossible to find an EC/SS on the used market. As of 2/2020, *Craig Uthus, the founder of Eddie Current, has closed this company after many years of manufacturing some of the best headphone amplifiers in the world.

*Update

I have been using the EC/SS with my Sennheiser HD600 and NAD HP50 VISO headphones, and find it to be an excellent match with both of them. I have also used the EC/SS with my Superlux HD681 EVO, Hifiman HE4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3. I find them all to be an excellent match as well.

Earlier...

*Craig Uthus has recently gone back into building a very limited production Eddie Current headphone amplifier. More information can be found on the Eddie Current Website

I recently purchased an Eddie Current EC/SS headphone amplifier. This is the first solid state headphone amplifier manufactured by Eddie Current - the precursor to the Eddie Current Black Widow. Owner, Craig Uthus, wanted to take advantage of the many new op amps available at the time (late 2000's), so he decided to build this headphone amplifier. The quality is typical of Eddie Current.

The EC/SS is comprised of a solidly built chassis using quality components, incorporated into an excellent circuit topology. The result is a headphone amplifier that puts out a full 3 watts per channel into a 32 ohm headphone, yet which will also easily drive higher impedance headphones of 300 and even 600 ohms.

The EC/SS has a background that is nearly as silent as my JDS Labs Atom; very impressive considering the Atom is a recent and very well regarded design, while the EC/SS is more than a decade old.

This amplifier also produces solid bass, a very clean midrange and well balanced treble.

In fact, there's a naturalness to the Eddie Current that makes you stop listening for sounds and instead allows you to just sit back and enjoy the music.

IMHO, the true worth of a any piece of Hi-Fi gear is how well it faithfully honors the music. And the EC/SS easily fulfills this criteria.

I use my EC/SS with an outboard power supply (the stock EC/SS came with a wall wart to save on cost), which works quite well with this headphone amplifier.

The EC/SS was designed around the Grado RS1 and Sennheiser HD 600 headphones; Craig's rationale was that because the Grado was rated at 32 ohm impedance and the HD 600 at 300 ohms, the EC/SS could pretty much power any headphone regardless of its output impedance.

I have recently used the EC/SS with my AKG K240 Sextett (600 ohms), Sennheiser HD 6XX and HD 600 (both 300 ohms), Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon (25 ohms), as well as two affordable planar magnetics: the Hifiman HE-4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3 (35 and 50 ohms respectively). The EC/SS sounds excellent with each of these headphones, which shows how well designed and flexible this solidly built little headphone amplifier is.

Eddie Current produces limited production components that are rarely found on the used market, and which usually sell quickly when they are offered second hand.

I believe that the EC/SS was produced in two batches for a total of about 25 amplifiers.

Mine is one of the latter EC/SS models which uses a pair of 811 op amps (It's reported that Craig preferred the sound of the 811 to the op amps that he used in his first batch of EC/SS amplifiers).


DNA Audio Starlett
Availability - New, Custom Built Only Via Donald North Audio/Used - Scarcer Than The Proverbial Hen's Tooth


I don't own a DNA Starlett. At least, not yet.

However, I have been privileged to demo a DNA Starlett for the past *month, yet, have not wanted to comment on it in any depth, until I had really tested it with some of my other components.

* Now that I have completed my demo, the Starlett is now being packed up and shipped off to another possible DNA customer, who will be privileged to demo this fine headphone amplifier in the coming days.

I'd like to thank Donald North for allowing me the opportunity to demo his Starlett.

I find Donald North to be as impressive as the headphone amplifiers that he manufactures. He is humble, yet at the same time, understands that his products are truly outstanding in their respective price categories.

Donald is also trusting. The Starlett is a $2000 headphone amplifier, yet his only request is that I pay to ship it back to him when he contacts me. I have had the Starlett for more than three weeks now and have spent several hours - practically everyday - listening to it.

How is that for a test drive?!

Moreover, I own many different headphone amplifiers, all of which do what I consider to be the most important thing for any audio product to do - faithfully honor the music. This is why I own them.

The second point of importance for this enthusiast is that these products must be both reliable and affordable - the primary reason that I spend so much time researching a product before I purchase it, and why whenever possible, I purchase such components used.

As for faithfully honoring the music, there are many headphone amplifiers that do not meet this basic criterion - ranging from inexpensive, to moderately priced, to expensive. So when I find a headphone amplifier (or for that matter, any audio component) that does faithfully honor the music, I make note of it.

This brings me again to the DNA Starlett. The Starlett is a TOTL (Top Of The Line) headphone amplifier that easily fulfills such criterion. Its build quality is above reproach, and its sound quality is superlative and engaging.

And did I forget to mention that it uses some very inexpensive (6DG6) output tubes that remain plentiful?

Having owned a pair of *Quicksilver 8417 tube monoblocks decades ago, I soon learned how important it is when purchasing a tube amplifier, to ensure that one has access to tubes in the future. Otherwise one's amplifier becomes little more than a heavy paper weight.

* I really liked the 8417. It was a very musical amplifier. However, it quite literally, ate its output tubes. I have never seen another amplifier burn through tubes the way that the 8417 did. Mike Sanders at Quicksilver Audio, realized this and bought up all of the remaining stock of Phillips 8417 tubes that he could find, so that his customers would have access to these tubes when their originals wore out. However, within a few years, Mike had sold off all of the remaining Phillips 8417s, and was forced to use the GE 8417, which was not nearly as robust. They were soon gone as well.

NOS matched quads of the Phillips 8417 quickly rose above the price of a pair of used QS 8417 monoblocks, which only further complicated matters.

So this is why it is so important that careful consideration is given to the tube complement of an audio component prior to purchasing it. And just another reason why I like the DNA Starlett as much as I do.

IMHO, while not inexpensive at $2000, the Starlett is worth every cent (and then some), since Donald North has put a lot of time, thought and effort into the design of this wonderful product.

Moreover, provided that it is properly maintained, the Starlett will give its owner many decades of enjoyment, and ultimately be passed on down to the next generation of that owner. What more can one ask of any audio component?

Sonically, the Starlett does everything well. It produces a solid bass and mid bass, a glorious midrange, and a clear and concise treble. The Starlett also adds just the right amount of depth and width to a soundstage, making it ideal for all types of performances.

Donald North is an artist when it comes to voicing his amplifiers. The tonality of the Starlett is as good as any headphone amplifier I have heard, in nearly 50 years in this hobby.

I have used it with my AKG K240 Sextett, Sennheiser HD600, HD6XX, Fostex T50RP MK3, Hifiman HE4XX, Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon, and NAD HP50 VISO, and the Starlett powers each headphone with ease. I'll go as far as to say that this amplifier has gotten the most out of these headphones, relative to any previous headphone amplifier that I own.

The Starlett produces both exemplary macro and micro dynamics. With this amplifier there's just more going on in the music. I hear certain subtle sounds that I have not heard with my other headphone amplifiers. During the time that I have used the Starlett, I have also taken some time away from it and gone back to some of my other headphone amplifiers, to ensure that my experience is not just the "placebo" or "new toy effect."

It's not. The improvements that I have heard with the Starlett are real, and they are significant enough to warrant the additional expense of this headphone amplifier, over those which I have purchased in the past.

As such, I have decided to purchase a new DNA Starlett in the future.

What higher praise can you give a product, then to purchase it?


Schiit Audio Asgard 2
Availability - New Old Stock Only Through Schiit Closeout & B Stock/Used - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues Such As AudioGon, US Audio Mart & Canuck Mart


Update: It's mid December of 2020 and Schiit is having a blowout sale on its remaining NOS Asgard 2's. There are only a handful left and the price has been lowered to $119 (A $130 discount over the original $249 price of the Asgard 2), which includes a full 5 year factory warranty. Given how well the Asgard 2 pairs with many planar magnetic headphones - as well as its build quality and long factory warranty - to say that $119 is a steal for the Asgard 2 is not an understatement.

I just purchased a second A2 in black (the only remaining color) and there are only a handful left. I recently purchased a Schiit EITR USB - S/PDIF bridge from Schiit B stock (knowing how useful the EITR is with older quality DAC's that do not have a USB input). It appears that Schiit has now sold all of the NOS EITR's that it had left over in its inventory. The EITR has sold on Ebay for over $200 new, so the $89 price over at Schiit's Website has been a real bargain. If you want an Asgard 2, you should get one before they sell out.

Earlier: My C stock Asgard 2 arrived today. For those who might be interested in knowing what a Schiit C stock component looks like: The unit is essentially brand new with the exception of a very small nick on the top cover (which is barely noticeable). Also, the *rubber feet were missing. IMHO, these are small caveats for a basically NOS A2 with a full 5 year factory warranty included, and for an as delivered price of just $159.90

*I purchased some thick rubber feet which should suffice, while giving more clearance to the A2's chassis for better air circulation.

I ran the A2 for a few hours and it really sounds quite good. It does run very hot though (especially on the right bottom side of the amplifier). My Asgard 3 also runs hot on the right bottom side of its chassis, however, the rest of the A3 runs a lot cooler than the A2. Even the knob on the A2 gets very warm.

This probably won't cool the A2 down at all since it's designed to run hot. However, it will keep the table underneath the A2 from getting hot.

Moreover, this is not an amplifier that I plan to run during the warmer months of the year. Instead, the A2 is perfect during the winter months since it doubles as a space heater.

As for how the A2 sounds, after listening to it for a few hours with a pair of Fostex T50RP MK3's (50 ohms), I can understand why some A2 owners have said that they really like this headphone amplifier with their planar magnetics. The A2 has a very detailed midrange and it makes a full watt of power in the 32 - 50 ohm range; ideal for many different brands of planar magnetic headphones whose output impedance is in the aforementioned range.

I am going to try the *A2 out with my HiFiman HE4XX (35 ohms) when I get a chance and will report back here. Thus far, it sounds very similar to the Asgard 3 I'm using, which is great.

*The Asgard 2 also pairs quite well with the Hifiman HE4XX.


Earlier:

I had been considering the purchase of an Asgard 2 for quite sometime, however, it always seemed to get preempted by another headphone amplifier that I was interested in. Then Schiit replaced the venerable old Asgard 2 with the Asgard 3, which I (and many other Hi-Fi enthusiasts) quickly purchased.

Suddenly, I could no longer purchase a brand new Asgard 2 with Schiit's terrific 5 year warranty, whenever I wanted to. Instead, I had to constantly check Schitt's B stock/Closeout page (where Schiit sells items at a discount) to see if an Asgard 2 was available.

About a week ago some NOS Asgard 2's appeared for sale including one that was listed as C stock, which I subsequently purchased - thinking C was just an abbreviation for Closeout stock. (Schiit did not list C stock in the legend description which they include on this particular Webpage - Just B stock and Closeout stock.)

As it turns out, I later learned that C stock is not an abbreviation for Closeout items (which are A stock - meaning perfect - that are no longer in production). Instead, C stock is actually a lower form of B stock, meaning that the C stock item has more imperfections than a B stock item has; hence its lower price.

* I would like to respectfully ask Jason and Mike to please list a legend description of C stock items in the future, so that anyone visiting this Webpage does not confuse C stock items with Closeout stock items. This way any confusion about the status of the stock can be avoided.

Hopefully, there won't be many imperfections on my C stock Asgard 2, since it was only $129 (almost 50% less than the cost of a brand new Asgard 2 prior to its being discontinued), and does have Schiit's five year factory warranty.

I am still awaiting delivery of the C stock, Asgard 2 and will comment on it after I have gotten it. In particular, how many imperfections a C stock item has, as well as how the Asgard 2 compares sonically to my Asgard 3 (which I really think is a wonderful headphone amplifier).

While I was on the Schiit Website purchasing my Asgard 2, I also noticed that Schiit has just launched its latest headphone amplifier, called the Magnius. The Magnius is a half case design like its companion Modius DAC. Both units have the same footprint as the Asgard 3 and Bifrost 2, however, they are half the height. The Magnius and Modius offer both single ended as well as balanced inputs and outputs, and their objective performance is exemplary.

The Magnius and Modius retail for $199 each, and can arguably be used to build an end game system for many headphone enthusiasts, since their technical performance is truly outstanding. Nice going Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat!


The Nobsound MS-10D/Upgraded With Voshkod Russian 6N1P-EV Tubes
Availability - New Through Ebay/Used - Commonly Found On Ebay & Other Internet Venues


Nobsound MS10D + Stax SRS44 **** Electrostatic Headphone System On The Cheap

* I'd read that the Russian 6N1P-EV vacuum tube is an excellent replacement for the stock Chinese 6N1 input tubes that are included with the Nobsound MS-10D. So, I decided to purchase a NOS (New Old Stock) pair from VivaTubes.com (sold on Ebay) for $24.95 delivered).

They've been burning in over the past day and continue to sound better and better. Overall, they are more etched than the stock Chinese 6N1P, with better definition and sound-staging. However, the stock tube is not nearly as bad as some people have stated. It sounds pretty good overall. I'll continue to update my listening experience with the Voshkod 6N1P-EV as it continues to burn in and its sound evolves.

The Nobsound MS-10D is one of the most versatile amplifiers on the market.

It functions as both a hybrid integrated amplifier (tube preamp/solid state amp) and headphone amplifier, as well as a preamplifier. Its 25 watts per channel (into 8 0hms) is also powerful enough to drive most dynamic loudspeakers to ear shattering levels. However, it's the overall finesse of the MS-10D that continues to impress this Hi-Fi enthusiast. There's just a refinement to this amplifier that transcends its low price. I have listened to all types of music through the MS-10D, using it as an integrated amp, preamp, and headphone amp, and continue to be amazed at how musical this little gem is.

What I find of interest is how appreciated this amplifier is by most of the people who own it, yet, how disparaged it is by most of the people who just find it an oddity.

In truth, the MS-10D does look like a poser. From its fake veneer wood side panels and a VU meter that's all but useless (in spite of looking very nice), to its empty transformer box (which contains nothing but thin air, even if it does serve as a nice platform for a small DAC), the MS-10D has found many critics.

Perhaps the greatest criticism is that the MS-10D is not a real tube amplifier, because its tubes do not drive its output stage. However, like most hybrid amplifiers, the tubes only run the preamplifier stage of this integrated amplifier, while its output stage remains solid state.

And in spite of what its critics claim, the tubes do have a very definite impact on the sound of the MS-10D, as all preamplifier tubes have on the sound of a hybrid amplifier. The preamp stage also runs the headphone amplifier, which with the right driver tubes, sounds quite good.

For more than three years now, I have been using the MS-10D to run a number of my headphones ranging from the aforementioned Sennheisers, to an old pair of AKG K240 Sextetts (600 ohms). I've also run more efficient headphones including: Meze 73 Classics, Superlux HD 681 EVOs, Grado SR60's and Koss KSC 75's.

Each of these headphones performs quite well with the MS-10D.

What comes as a pleasant surprise is just how well the MS-10D runs my Stax SR-40 electret headphones. I just run the Stax's SRD-4 adaptor to the speaker outputs on the MS-10D and it drives my SR-40s to perfection.

I really like the electrostatic sound. However, most of Stax's headphone gear is expensive. The SRS-44 gives one the opportunity to experience the Stax house sound without breaking the bank. For more on the SRS-44 system please scroll down to my next post.

When comparing it to far more expensive gear (Naim Audio NAC62 preamp/HICAP driving both Antique Sound Lab Wave 25 tube monoblocks - 25 watts per channel - as well as Quicksilver Audio Minimite monoblocks - also 25 watts per channel) I am also very impressed with how well the MS-10D compares. It does not have the resolution of the more expensive amplification, however, at a fraction of their price it still manages to compete favorably.

One of my favorite *combinations is using the MS-10D as a preamplifier and pairing it with a pair of Dayton Audio APA150 amplifiers in bridged mode, which creates a 150 watt per channel (into 8 ohms) hybrid giant slayer for about $400.

*I've also used some of my other inexpensive headphone amplifiers (Schiit Audio Magni 3, Little Dot MK2, and Antique Sound Lab MG Head MKI) with the APA150s and found a similar synergy.

In my humble opinion, you'll have to spend at least four to five times as much to get something that sounds better - this combo is that good!

For all intents and purposes, what the MS-10D does best is to faithfully honor the music. Moreover, with good source material it is always involving to listen to, which allows for hours of enjoyment.

As for those who've claimed that the tube section of the MS-10D is merely for decoration, the fact is that the tube section drives the preamplifier on the MS-10D and gives it its midrange bloom.

So if you're not caught up in such Hi-Fi snobbery where you believe that you must spend a fortune on audio equipment in order to enjoy listening to music, then you may truly find that the Nobsound is ideal for your needs.

Given that the MS-10D can be purchased for about $150 delivered, I highly recommend it, since for the money it truly is a giant slayer!


Stax SRS-44 Electret Headphone System (Circa 1975)
Availability: Used Only - Rare - Occasionally Found On Ebay & Other Internet Venues Such As Audiogon, US Audio Mart and Canuck Mart


A few years ago I purchased a Stax *SRS-44 that I am posting about here, since this is a fascinating little headphone system that may well be the most idiosyncratic piece of Hi-Fi gear I have ever owned.

The *SRS-44 consists of the Stax SR-40 electret headphone and an adaptor unit (code named SRD-4) which must be used with a separate power amplifier (of your choice); the SRD-4 is used with the SR-40 to interface the latter with said amplifier, thus giving the user quite a bit of flexibility (since one can use a myriad of different power amplifiers [tube or solid state] to power the SR-40).

* Unlike a true electrostatic earspeaker, an electret headphone like the Stax SR-40 is based on the electrostatic design principle. The primary difference being that the speaker drivers in the electret headphone are subjected to a permanent electrostatic charge, while an electrostatic headphone requires that it be powered by a dedicated electrostatic amplifier.

Why do I say that the SR-40 is idiosyncratic? Because unlike most headphones that are available today, which are designed to be forgiving of very mediocre sounding wireless devices, the SR-40 is exactly the opposite.

Use the SR-40 with a great source and excellent amplification it will bring you listening enjoyment that is all but impossible to experience with a dynamic headphone at anywhere near this price (I paid about $100 for my SRS-44 system). On the other hand, if you use the SR-40 with a bad source and poor amplification it will sound bad. And I mean really bad.

As previously stated, since the SR-40 does not come with its own dedicated amplifier, the user can alter the sound of the SR-40 by choosing their power amplifier.

For this reason, at least one audio company (Woo Audio Inc. of Woodside, Queens, NY) has recognized the value of using an electrostatic adaptor with Stax headphones, instead of a dedicated electrostatic headphone amplifier.

The Woo Audio Wee, utilizes a similar design to the Stax headphone adaptors which Stax manufactured from 1960 until the late 1980s. Unlike a dedicated electrostatic headphone amplifier, the headphone adaptor uses the audio outputs of a dedicated power amplifier to send source material through the adaptor to the electret or electrostatic headphones. Many Stax users have found it of benefit to use a separate high quality power amplifier to feed audio to their Stax headphones, instead of using a Stax dedicated headphone amplifier. Other Stax owners prefer using a Stax dedicated headphone amplifier; especially with Stax's more expensive headphones.

As I stated earlier, the Stax SR-40 electret headphone - the other half of the SRS-44 audio system - is completely dependent on the *SRD-4 as an interface with one's home audio amplifier. The SRD-4 is a well constructed, very simple affair containing some wiring and two small transformers, so no electricity from a wall outlet is needed to power the SRD-4.

*Unlike the Woo Audio Wee (and all of the other Stax SRD units built over the past fifty some odd years - except for the SRD-6SB and SRD-7SB {SB meaning self biasing}), which uses AC power to power electrostatic headphones and the audio output of a separate power amplifier to send audio to the electrostatic headphones, the Stax SRD-4 uses no AC power, and consequently, has no bias to speak of.

So what does the SR-40/SRD-4 system sound like?

As previously stated, that all depends on the source it's fed, and the amplification used to amplify this source.

I have not found many reviews on the SRS-44 since it is more than forty years old, and those which I have found have been mixed. Some listeners have really liked the sound of the SRS-44 while others have not.

I can only *attribute this to the sources and amplification that they were using with the SRS-44 when they made their comments.

*Either this or the SRS-44 was not operating in peak condition at the time

The reader may also consider that when the SRS-44 was first introduced, common amplification of the time was some type of Japanese manufactured solid state stereo receiver or Japanese separates; all of which were known for their flat dimensionless sound.

So it would be unfair to judge any type of speaker system when it is used with such mediocre electronics; regardless of how well constructed these electronics are; or how aesthetically pleasing (there are many collectors who believe that the 1970s represent the pinnacle of Hi-Fi gear - when in reality the tube gear of the prior few decades was much nicer sounding, as is much of the solid state and tube gear designed from the early 1980s to the present day).

As good as certain electronics were back in the 1970s such as the higher end open reel tape decks, cassette decks and FM tuners (and a few loudspeakers), the amplifiers for all their bells and whistles were the weak link in the Hi-Fi chain during this time.

Not to belabor this fact, however, when a well designed speaker system is blamed for the short comings of the source or amplification operating further up the audio chain, it is important to identify the real cause of dissatisfaction within this "Hi-Fi Hierarchy."

And I can just imagine how over the years, many good speakers and headphones have been blamed for the poor sources and electronics they were paired with.

You Can't Improve On A Source - Only Color It

Decades ago, Edgar Vilchur (founder of Acoustic Research Inc.), the talented electronics' designer who invented the legendary AR series of loudspeakers as well as the floating suspension turntable (amongst other important advances in High Fidelity), arrived at the conclusion that the signal sent from a turntable (or any source component) cannot be improved upon by any component in the system, which comes after the turntable.

The bad signal can be colored in order to make it more listenable, however, it cannot be improved upon in terms of its accuracy.

Many turntable designers would later adhere to this belief when creating their own products, as the Hi-End continued in its quest to achieve "The Absolute Sound." Taking the aforesaid into account, I decided to try the Stax SRS-44 with an inexpensive solid state amplifier currently in production (the Dayton APA150) on its own, and then with two different affordable headphone amplifiers which both contain preamp outputs, so that they could also be used as active preamplifiers with the Dayton APA150 amplifier.

I found the sound of the SRS-44 system to be fairly detailed with the APA150, although vocals and certain instruments could be a bit harsh. The bass and treble were rolled off, however, the midrange had a transparency that was palpable. Next to my Grado SR60s, Koss KSC75s and Superlux HD681 EVO's, it sounded as though a veil had been removed from the music when using the SRS-44. Keep in mind that I was using Amazon Fire tablets as the source, so I was not expecting much.

When I added the Little Dot II MK2 (a push pull, output transformer-less design) into the equation, the SR-40's sound changed significantly - and for the better. The slight harshness of the treble I'd noticed with the APA150 disappeared completely when it was paired with the Little Dot, and the midrange of the SR-40 took on a bloom that made the listening experience far more enjoyable.

The SR-40 offered an ideal combination of detail, transparency and warmth that is nearly impossible to find in a dynamic headphone, regardless of how expensive they are.

When I substituted a Schiit Magni 3 for the Little Dot, the midrange became even more articulate, at the expense of the lovely bloom offered by the Little Dot.

However, in both instances these headphone amp/preamp's acquitted themselves quite well, erring by omission rather than commission.

This is especially impressive given how inexpensive the Little Dot and Magni 3 are.

The SR-40 did a very good job of conveying these sonic differences, so I decided to pair it up with an inexpensive hybrid tube integrated amplifier from Nobsound - the MS10D.

I purchased the Nobsound just under a year ago and continue to be impressed by this inexpensive giant slayer.

One of the things I like most about the MS10D is that it actually has tone controls which enable the listener to tailor the sound of the music source to their own listening preferences. This is especially important since most digital wireless devices whether they're MP-3 players, cell phones or tablets, are all bass deficient. They just sound thin, in spite of the equalizer software that is often bundled with these components.

All I can say is that the pairing of the SR-40 with the *Nobsound MS-10D has been the proverbial match made in Heaven. Listening to choral music with this system is truly enjoyable, as are stringed instruments such as violins, cellos and various types of acoustic guitars.

*My references are based on the inclusion of a NOS pair of Voshkod 6N1P-EV input tubes that I am now using in the Nobsound MS-10D.

With *25 watts per channel into an 8 ohm load, there's also plenty of power on tap so that the SR-40 never sounds anemic.

*Remember that the SR-40 is hooked via the SRD-4 adaptor, directly to the Nobsound's speaker outputs, as opposed to the MS-10D's headphone jack (which is far less powerful) - so the SR-40 is powered the way that an actual loudspeaker would be instead of like a headphone.

Classical and Jazz piano solos also sound wonderful.

The reader will find many different high quality uploads of J.S. Bach's six suites for cello and guitar on YouTube, which remain some of the best compositions ever written for these instruments.

I have also found that while most of the uploads to Websites like YouTube contain low quality files, some of the uploads do in fact contain high quality files such as Lossless, which enable one to hear the quality of the microphones used in recordings that approximate a live performance.

You are never quite fooled into believing that you are listening to a live performance here, however, the experience is close enough (with cheap equipment no less) that it is remarkable.

I recently spent time listening to some very talented artists on YouTube, including classical guitarist Ana Vidovic, and finger guitarists Gabriella Quevedo, Antoine Dufour, Tommy Emmanuel and Caleb Graham; all of whom use high quality microphones during their recording sessions. To say that I was astounded at how good these performances sounded via the MS-10D/SR-40 combo is not an understatement.

I was able to listen for hours without any fatigue at all.

These components (totaling $259) truly sounded fantastic, in many instances rivaling components that are far more expensive.

It just goes to show how good well designed low priced Hi-Fi gear can sound when the source material you're playing through it is excellent.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of choosing excellent source material, since high quality audio/audio video uploads to the Internet are minimal, relative to all of the marginal (and in some instances terrible quality)sources one finds on YouTube, SPOTIFY and some of the other entertainment venues.

If you listen to a quality source you may find that your audio playback system may be better than you think.

As for the Stax SRS-44 system, this was a foray for the company into producing an electrostatic earspeaker that did not require a dedicated amplifier to power it.

At the time (1975) the SRS-44 was introduced, Stax claimed that its electret system would perform just as well as its reference electrostatic headphone of the time. However, the electret would never quite gain the popularity of Stax electrostatic headphones, which is why Stax stopped producing them by the late 1980s.

Some Stax users have claimed that the company's electrostatic headphones are far superior to its electret headphones, while others have claimed that the electret headphones can be quite competitive if they are used with an excellent source and amplifier.

This audio enthusiast has found the latter to be true, since when the SRS-44 system (provided it's in proper working order) is paired with a quality source and amplification, it is extremely involving to listen to.

Moreover, the SR-40 is significantly more transparent in its midrange than any dynamic headphone costing several times what the SRS-44 system can be purchased for on the used market.

That's not to say that the SRS-44 system, itself, was inexpensive when new. Back in 1975 when Stax first offered the SRS-44, it sold for over $150 (the equivalent of about $800 in the modern day). However, a nice SRS-44 system can be had for around $100 - $150, with poorer examples of the SRS-44s selling for as little as $40 - $50.

So if you are thinking about buying an electrostatic headphone system and don't want to pay an exorbitant price for one, you may want to consider the Stax SRS-44 system. They are rare, however, do come up for sale on E-bay from time to time.

You may find an SRS-44 now and then listed for a significantly higher price (there are two on Ebay presently listed from Japan at $399 and $499 respectively), however, they usually don't sell at such prices. So be patient and you should eventually find one at a more affordable price.


Schiit Audio Magni 3 - The Headphone Amplifier That Started The Sub $100 Headphone Amp Craze!
Availability - Used Only - Commonly Available On E-bay And Other Internet Venues

The Schiit Magni 3 was the headphone amplifier that started the sub $100 quality headphone amp craze. Two years ago, when the Magni 3 debuted, it really had no competition at all. Two years later, the Magni 3 has spawned several competitors; most notably, the Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Spark, the Geshelli Labs Archel Pro 2 and 2.5, the JDS Labs Atom and the Loxjie P20 hybrid tube headphone amplifier.

I own all but the Geshelli Labs amplifiers, and I can say that the ones I own are quite good for the money. In my estimate the performance they offer is equal to or better than that of headphone amplifiers of a decade ago, costing many times their price.

Headphone amplifier design has grown by leaps and bounds since the late 2000's. As such, it is now possible to purchase a sub $100 headphone amplifier that when paired with a comparable headphone, can offer end game performance for many Hi-Fi enthusiasts.

Geshelli Labs latest headphone amplifiers start at under $150 and approach $200 for a balanced version. This company has become an up and comer in the headphone amplifier business after receiving some positive reviews, not the least of which is a recent excellent review by Amir at the Audio Science Review Website (Amir tested the Geshelli Labs Archel PRO 2, and found its performance to be quite impressive).

As for the Magni 3, this headphone amplifier does everything well. And while it will power all of my headphones, it excels with my lower impedance headphones. Moreover, while it does not have quite as black a background as my JDS Labs Atom (the Magni 3 tends to be a tad warmer), its sound is full and well detailed.

Those who claim that the Magni 3 has a bit of an edge or glare in its treble region are probably just overdriving this amplifier to the point where it's distorting. I say this since I have always found the Magni 3 to have a pleasant sounding treble unless I am overdriving this headphone amp. When playing it loudly, the Magni 3 can be easily overdriven with higher impedance headphones such as the Sennheiser HD600 and HD650, which is something to consider if you plan on purchasing a Magni 3 to drive a higher impedance headphone.

Given that the Magni 3 is a current driven headphone amplifier, I've always found that it does much better with lower to mid impedance headphones, where it offers more than enough headroom to sound its best.

I have found that the Magni 3 pairs quite well with my two entry level planar magnetic headphones: The Hifiman HE-4XX and the Fostex T50RP MK3. The Magni 3 with either of these headphones - combined with an excellent source and my Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer - creates a system which for this Hi-Fi enthusiast, has reached the law of diminishing returns in this hobby. As such, there's little reason for me to spend more money, unless I want to obtain the slightest of margins in performance gains. And for this I would have to spend a lot more money.

Moreover, after two years of ownership, the Magni 3 continues to operate flawlessly. And I still highly recommend it even though it's been replaced by two newer offerings: the *Magni 3 + and the *Magni Heresy. These products have been well received and continue in the tradition of the Magni 3.

*Amir at Audio Science Review recently tested the Magni 3 + and Magni Heresy and liked both of them. However, he found that the Magni Heresy was by far the superior headphone amplifier objectively, which is why Amir gave his recommendation to the Magni Heresy.


Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2
Availability - Not Sure If The Emmeline HR-2 Is Still Available New (You'd Have To Contact Ray Samuels At His Website)/Used - Rare But Sometimes Found Through E-bay And Other Internet Venues

I recently purchased a used Ray Samuels *Emmeline HR-2 (built circa 2005 at a cost of $875 + shipping and sales tax - Just under $1300 in the present day when taking into account inflation). The Emmeline HR-2 is a robust little two chassis headphone amplifier consisting of the headphone amplifier itself and a hefty separate power supply. When this headphone amplifier debuted in 2003 it quickly gained a reputation for both excellent sound quality and exemplary build quality - given the military spec components used in its manufacture.

*All of Ray Samuels' audio products begin with the name Emmeline, who's Ray's daughter.

First impressions are as follows: The HR-2 is very well made. It has a permanently attached umbilical cord connecting the HR-2 to its external power supply. I would imagine that the HR-2 is designed to leave on all the time since it has no power switch. So you must unplug the power supply from a wall outlet whenever you want to turn the HR-2 off.

As for the sound of the HR-2, it is lush and very transparent if not a bit dark. However, there's no veil here. The midrange of the HR-2 in particular is palpable. Sonically, the HR-2 reminds me of early *Electrocompaniet amplifiers like the original 2 channel 25 watt per channel amplifier and the ampliwire II, as well as the early Mark Levinson amplifiers (like the ML-2 monoblocks and the ML-3 stereo amp). I am referring to amplifiers that were built back in the days when Mark actually owned the company, and employed great electrical designers like Tom Colangelo and John Curl, to design the circuit topology for several of his products.

*The HR-2 also has the same color coordination (a black chassis with pale blue lettering) as the early Electrocompaniet gear.

In other words, the sound of the HR-2 is addictive to listen to for hours on end. IMHO, the HR-2 is as fatigue free as a headphone amplifier gets. And it's built to last for decades. It also easily runs every headphone I own, ranging from planar magnetics to high impedance dynamics like my Sennheiser HD6XX and HD600 (300 Ohms) - as well as my AKG K240 Sextetts (600 Ohms). The HR-2 sounds particularly good with the Hifiman HE-4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3 planar magnetic headphones.


Antique Soundlab MG Head DT

Antique Sound Lab MG Head MKI
Availability - Used Only - Now Twenty Years Old, The MG Head DT Is Becoming More Of A Rarity On The Used Market; Only Available From Time To Time On E-bay And Other Internet Venues

*Antique Sound Lab was a Chinese manufacturer of quality tube audio components that during the 2000's became a formidable competitor within the world of Hi-End audio. Their products utilized quality components, including hand wound transformers, which were constructed within a special section of the Antique Sound Lab factory; one which focused on nothing but the lost art of transformer manufacture.

*According to Tash Goka, the head of Divergent Technologies (the former North American importer for Antique Sound Lab), Antique Sound Lab is no longer in business.

Over the past 18 years my ASL MG Head DT (DT standing for Divergent Technology - the former Canadian importer for Antique Sound Lab) never received much use, so about a year ago I *re-tubed it (the tubes had lost their vacuum from age rather than use) and have been using it regularly ever since.

*My MG Head DT started life as a class A biased, push pull, triode headphone amplifier, which utilized a single 12AX7 as its input driver, and a pair of EL84 output tubes.

I recently did a very simple modification to convert the MG Head from a push pull circuit into a single ended one, and it has improved the sound noticeably.

Thus, my MG Head DT is now a fully class A biased, single ended, triode headphone amplifier.

This configuration gives the MG Head DT a lush midrange that sounds wonderful on my higher impedance headphones. This amplifier sounds great on my Sennheiser HD 600 and HD 6XX headphones (both 300 ohms), as well as my vintage AKG K240 Sextetts (600 ohms).

The HD 650 and HD 600 are difficult headphones to drive , requiring quite a bit of voltage. The Sextetts are even more difficult to drive. In fact, when using the Sextetts, most of the headphone amplifiers that I own must be run with the volume fully open to get decent volume levels out of them. However, given the considerable voltage that the MG Head supplies, there's plenty of headroom when using this headphone amplifier with the Sextetts, and it simply loafs along when driving them.

The ASL MG Head is a wonderful sounding headphone amplifier that works well with all of my higher impedance headphones, and benefits noticeably from tube rolling (there are many different brands of EL84 and 12AX7 tubes on the market). It is also built like the proverbial tank. And its ALPS volume control has the most luxurious feel I have ever observed in a piece of Hi-Fi equipment - regardless of how expensive the gear.


JDS Labs Atom
Availability - Available New On The JDS Labs Website/Also Frequently Available Used On E-bay & Other Internet Venues

I've owned my JDS Labs Atom for nearly a year now and the following are some of my observations. The Atom is as close to a wire with gain as you can get at any price. If it errs at all, its by omission rather than commission.

The Atom has as black a background as any headphone amplifier I have ever heard. The sound is full and clean. Nothing euphonic, not sterile.

It has a surprising amount of power, even with my higher impedance headphones. It will run every headphone that I own from 25 ohms to 600 ohms quite well, making it a very flexible product.

As for criticisms that it is cheaply made, I would have to say the money on the Atom is spent on its internals. It is a fling-able fly weight in that it weighs next to nothing. Moreover, the volume control does have a cheap feel to it that does detract from the overall quality. However, I am not familiar with any problem with the volume control aside from its cheap feel.

At $99, the JDS Labs Atom offers exemplary performance. This is not just an excellent headphone amplifier at the price. It's an excellent headphone amplifier at any price. The fact that it can be had so inexpensively is just another reason to purchase it.

I really like this company. John Seaber, the owner (hence the JDS in JDS Labs) understands the importance of quality customer service, and Mr. Seaber, himself, answers Emails regarding questions to his products. How many companies do you know of where you as a consumer can speak directly to the president of the company?

There are an increasing number of small American companies either getting into the headphone business, or who have been in this business for many years, whether by manufacturing headphones, headphone amplifiers, DAC's or graphic equalizers.

Decware Audio, Beezar Audio, Garage1217, Toolshed Audio, DNA Audio, JDS Labs, Eddie Current, Hagerman Audio Labs, Schiit Audio, Geshelli Labs and Bottle Head Audio, have become some of the better known of these companies. As an American I seek to support American companies whenever I can and hope that we will once again become the manufacturing power that we were decades ago.


LS3/5A Insanity!

When a newer 60Th Anniversary version of this speaker was introduced a few years ago, it was priced at $4500, and this has since led to the run up in the prices of older BBC licensed LS3/5A speakers (from a number of different manufacturers). However, in the case of the 60Th Anniversary model, the price reflected the cost of materials and labor in the present day. Spending this much on a thirty to forty year old pair of LS3/5As whose transducers and crossovers are also that old is crazy.

Especially when taking inflation into account, since my $550 pair of LS3/5A's would cost around $1200 today. I'm not saying that these older speakers are not worth a premium, when they are in excellent condition. However, spending $3000 - $4000 on a pair of decades old LS3/5As (regardless of how good a shape they are in) is a bad investment. This is especially true for the ratty looking LS3/5As whose parts are several decades old, like a pair that sold on E-bay some time ago for more than $4500.

When These Speakers Are Out Pricing Brand New Offerings Of LS3/5A's - Including Those From The Latest BBC Licensed LS3/5A Manufacturer Falcon Audio - (A Company That Has Also Gone To The Trouble Of Tooling Up To Manufacture Original B110 Woofers And T27 Tweeters For Their Own Incarnation Of The Much Heralded 15 Ohm Version Of The LS3/5A!) It Is Just Plain Crazy To Spend So Much Money On Older LS3/5A Speakers Based Not On Excellent Sonic Performance, But Rather Nostalgia.

Paying so much is not even logical, much less practical. Rogers' 11 OHM version of the LS3/5A sounds just as nice as its 15 OHM sibling (and while not cheap, is a bargain next to the 15 OHM version of the LS3/5A). If you plan on keeping these speakers consider the 11 OHM version (which is more efficient than the 15 OHM version and can be partnered with a wider array of high quality low powered amplifiers), and save yourself a few grand in the process.

Bedini 10/10 Classic

  • JimmyBlues Adventures In Aquascaping
  • *McIntosh Tuner Owners & Enthusiasts Can Click On The Following Photo of My Beautiful Circa 1963 McIntosh MR-65B (McIntosh's First Factory Offered Stereo Tuner), To Get Information On All MAC Tuners Beginning With The MR-55 Mono Tuner Of The Late 1950's. Over the years I have seen the MR-65B's price vary dramatically depending on its condition. The one at the following Website had been bid up to nearly $1200 on an Ebay auction - far more inline with Audio Classic's $2000 pricing for this particular unit in good condition. I own two of these beauties including the one in the following photo. In my opinion, the MR-65B is the most beautiful looking of all McIntosh tuners, and one of the best sounding FM tuners ever built.

    JIMMYBLUES HI-FI COMPENDIUM

    McIntosh MR-65B -- One of the rarest of all Mac tuners and most valuable -- Audio Classics sells these for $2000 in good condition (that is when they actually have them for sale at all). Given that they are nearly 50 years old, it's becoming tougher to find an MR-65B in nice shape. Only 1600 were ever built. The MR-65B was the first stereo tube tuner built by McIntosh. It was manufactured from 1962 until 1964. I have acquired two of these classic beauties since 2008. One is completely serviced and in a nice original walnut cabinet, while the other is sans cabinet and working in monaural only.

    Both are in near mint cosmetic condition, with all lettering intact on one, and most of the lettering intact on the other. The chassis are without rust and the chrome is in excellent condition. Especially considering that these MR-65B's are nearly fifty years old! They are easily two of the finest remaining examples of McIntosh's first stereo tube FM tuner.

    Classic McIntosh MR-65B Tube Tuner


    Looking For Some New Music?
    Who Isn't?

    For those of you who are always looking for new musical artists (who isn't?), the following lady is truly a remarkable talent. And as you shall see, quite beautiful as well. Carolyn Leonhart is best known as a backup singer for Steely Dan, having recently toured with Becker and Fagan. Not one to give compliments freely, Fagan once referred to Leonart's virtuosity in the following quote: "this chick's one swingin' canary!" Don't be surprised if her sultry voice takes you back to extraordinary vocalists from another time, including Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald. And like the latter ladies of jazz, Leonhart, too, is truly something special.

    More On Vocalist Carolyn Leonhart

    See more on the famous Leak Troughline tuner:

  • The Leak Troughline Tuner Series

  • Vintage Pioneer TX-7800 Tuner


    Classic Marantz Model 125 FM Tuner

  • Excellent Vintage Hi-Fi Online Museum

  • Some Recent Tuner Acquisitions

    Revox B261

    Revox B261 -- A behemoth of a tuner; beautifully built and great sounding -- the tuner website that did the shootout is a wonderful addition, and great benefit to this hobby. However, in my opinion the fellow who did the review of the B261 either had one that needed to be serviced, or has specific listening tastes.

    A number of people have remarked at what a superb sounding tuner the B261 is and that it easily holds its own with its even more famous sibling -- the B760. And while I have never heard a B760, I have to say that the B261 is a superb sounding tuner, and in my opinion more elegant looking than the B760.

    I have also noticed that the B760's regularly come up on the American Ebay site, however I have yet to see a B261 for sale on this site. I had to go to a foreign Ebay Website and use language translator software to purchase my B261 from a Swedish seller, who only spoke German. It was a lot of time and effort, but well worth it, since I finally have a tuner that I have wanted for many years. The B261 is a beautifully manufactured and engineered product that was built to offer years of faithful service.

    *Note that the B261 has a green plastic strip installed between the two bulbs that are used to illuminate the tuning and digital readout displays, which gets burn marks on it after years of use, that diminish the intensity of the bulbs. Removing it altogether takes about 5 seconds, and brings back the brightness of these displays by a considerable margin.

    Marantz Model 125

    Marantz Model 125 -- One of the prettiest tuners ever made, and just as good sounding as the Model 150 (the two are basically the same circuit topology -- the Model 150 basically differs only in its use of an oscilloscope, while the the Marantz 125 uses two vertically mounted tuning meters).

    As such, the Model 125 continues to rank as one of the best values in hi-end tuners. Regularly selling in good condition for under $300, and up to $400 for a mint unit, the Marantz 125 is an affordable classic that competes favorably with the best; even if its DX performance is slightly off that of the best tuners available.

    Its wonderful sound quality has earned it the respect of tuner officionados the world over. And then there's that smoked perspex glass with the red, blue and tan lights, that is so reminscent of the flash of the 1970's audio market.

    Some of my fondest earliest memories of music and audio are of a Marantz 2230 receiver that I'd gotten from my folks as a 16TH Birthday present back in the 1970's. I used to spend hours on Friday and Saturday evenings listening to groups like the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Elton John, and Pink Floyd. Many times I'd find myself staring into the darkness listening to disc jockies like the "The Night Bird" (the late Alison Steele), while admiring the 2230's colorful facade. Even if it was just for a few hours at night, and despite the myriad of problems which the human race was experiencing at the time, during those few magical hours, all seemed right with the world.

    The Model 125 shares this same facade - it's just plain cool to look at while listening to your favorite radio stations, and good value in vintage tunerdom. A tuner like the Pioneer TX-7800 given its similar performance and much lower selling price must be considered a great value.

    Tandberg 3011A

    Tandberg 3011A -- A beautifully made and aethestic work of art, the 3011A is one of the nicest sounding FM tuners ever made. And like my old Saab 99EMS (also of Norwegian origin) equally as ideosyncratic. A good, but not great dx'er, the 3011A resides in a black aluminum low profile chassis, which sports a relatively large footprint. It's red, orange and white tuning lights offering a nice contrast to its black facia.

    The 3011A sold new in 1982 for $695, but can be had in the modern day for as little as $225, for one which needs a new internal battery and new set of presets. While some have said that if the presets on the 3011A go bad (the same for its 3001A, 3001 and 3011 siblings), it becomes impossible to tune in stations, this has not been the case in my experience. The 3011A tunes in stations through a touch-tune system, in which the tuning knob will electronically disengage the moment that you touch it, only to reengage the moment that you remove your fingers from the knob.

    The 3011A's controls have a precison feel to them that exudes an air of quality. If you're thinking about becoming a collector of vintage FM tuners, the 3011A is a great place to start.

    Hi-Fi Journal


    Antique Soundlab MG Head DT & Nobsound MS-10D

    Rediscovering An Old Friend & Discovering A New One

    In the late 1990's, after I sold off the last of my Hi End audio gear, I purchased a Bose Wave Radio which served as my only connection to the world of music for the next few years.

    And I must say that at the time and to this day, I continue to be impressed with the overall simplicity of the Bose Wave Radio, its excellent sound quality, as well as its reliability. Mine must have close to 20,000 hours on it and it is still going strong after two decades.

    However, by 2001 I began to miss having a real hi-fi system and decided to gradually return to the hobby through the purchase of an Antique Sound Lab MG Head DT headphone amplifier.

    Antique Sound Lab is a Chinese manufacturer of quality tube audio components that has become a formidable competitor within the world of hi-end audio. Their products utilize quality components, including hand wound transformers which are constructed within a special section of the Antique Sound Lab factory; one that focuses on nothing but the lost art of transformer manufacture.

    Over the past 18 years my MG Head DT (DT standing for Divergent Technology - the former Canadian importer for Antique Sound Lab) never received much use, so about a year ago I re-tubed it (the tubes had lost their vacuum from age rather than use) and have been using it regularly ever since.

    I recently did a very simple modification to turn the MG Head from a push pull circuit to a single ended one, and it has improved the sound even more.

    The ASL MG Head is a wonderful sounding headphone amplifier that works well with all of my headphones, and benefits noticeably from tube rolling. It is also built like the proverbial tank. And its ALPS volume control has the most luxurious feel I have ever observed in a piece of Hi-Fi equipment; regardless of how expensive the gear.

    I recently *hooked the MG Head up to a pair of Dayton Audio APA150s, which are bridged for monaural use, and found that the MG Head/APA150 combo works quite well together. A hybrid amplifier offering a very simplistic single ended triode preamplifier and a pair of 150 watt per channel (into 8 ohms) monoblock amplifiers that I use to power my KEF 101 Reference Series monitors and Linn Kan I's.

    *The MG Head DT series I never included a preamp output section, so you have to connect the MG Head to an amplifier via its headphone output jack in order to use it as a preamplifier.

    As for using the MG Head DT as a preamplifier, the sound quality is surprisingly good, and competes favorably with my Little DOT MKII version 2 (a single ended push pull OTL headphone amp/preamp).

    The MG Head DT uses a single 12AX7 input tube and a pair of EL84 output tubes, which give it a lush midrange that really complements the APA150 monoblocks.

    Of course the nicest part of this is how inexpensive this equipment is, as it offers a tremendous cost to performance ratio.

    Before the Chinese entered the audio market, it would have costs thousands of dollars worth of audio gear to achieve the type of sound quality that Chinese components now offer for only a few hundred dollars.

    Moreover, even though there've been several headphone/preamplifiers offered by Antique Sound Lab since I purchased my MG Head back in 2001, I find it difficult to believe that these later versions could offer sound that improves that much over the unit which I am presently listening to (which is an upgraded version of the original MG Head DT MKI). Thus, I can enthusiastically recommend this earlier version of the MG Head to anyone who has an interest in a well built and fine sounding tube headphone amplifier, whose conservative looks make it seem like it was built in the 1950's!

    *As for specifications: my version of the MG Head DT is an upgraded version of the original single chassis unit, however, with the following upgrades:

    "Antique Sound Labs has upgraded its MG Head DT tube headphone amplifier. The upgrade includes a mini ALPS volume control for better tracking, MIT MusicCap capacitors in the audio path, higher capacity power transformer, and JJ vacuum tubes (two EL84 and one ECC83). The MG Head DT retails for $279 US."

    The only power rating that I could find for this headphone amplifier stated that it's 150 milliwatts per channel. However, it does not say at what impedance.

    What I do know is that the MG Head DT is a wonderful sounding headphone amplifier that can play at painfully loud sound levels with my Sennheiser HD 600 and HD 6XX (both 300 ohms); much louder than these headphones play with my JDS Labs Atom, Monolith Cavalli Liquid Spark, Loxjie P20, Schiit Magni 3, Garage 1217 Project Starlight V1 or my Nobsound MS 10D. So, the MG Head must be putting out a lot more than 150 milliwatts at 300 ohms.

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